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Iran enriches uranium
Condemnation from US, Russia, UK
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday declared his country had succeeded in enriching uranium, a development the United States described as a step in the wrong direction. The announcement came midway through a 30-day timeframe that the United Nations Security Council gave Iran to end all work towards enrichment.

Speaking at a nationally televised rally in the Iranian holy city of Mashhad, Mr Ahmadinejad said: “I’m announcing officially that Iran has now joined the countries that have nuclear technology… This is a very historic moment, and it’s because of the Iranian people and their belief. And this is the start of the progress of this country.” The crowd broke into cheers of “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” Costumed dancers performed on the stage, holding aloft vials of raw uranium.

Mr Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran’s nuclear goals were peaceful. “We are saying again that the nuclear technology is only for the purpose of peace and nothing else,” he said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Iranian president’s announcement “only further underscores why the international community has serious concerns about the regime’s nuclear ambitions.”

“This is a regime that needs to be building confidence with the international community. Instead, they’re moving in the wrong direction. This is a regime that has a long history of hiding its nuclear activities from the international community, and refusing to comply with its international obligations,” he said, adding: “Defiant statements and actions only further isolate the regime from the rest of the world, and further isolate the Iranian people.”

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said, “We would have hoped that the Iranian regime would have taken this opportunity to choose a pathway of diplomacy as opposed to the pathway of defiance.”

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all enrichment by April 28 because of suspicions that the programme is designed to make nuclear weapons. The United States and some of its European allies believe Iran is secretly trying to develop fuel for nuclear weapons, a claim Iran has dismissed.

President George W. Bush on Tuesday said “we do not want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon.”

On Wednesday, Iran’s deputy nuclear chief said Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges. “We will expand uranium enrichment to industrial scale at Natanz,” the deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, told state-run television, referring to an Iranian nuclear plant. He said Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it planned to install 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz by late 2006, then expand to 54,000 centrifuges.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, was scheduled to arrive in Tehran on Wednesday to urge Iran to halt its enrichment programme. However, Iranian officials said Dr. ElBaradei would face a very different set of circumstances.

Mr Ahmadinejad warned the West that trying to force Iran to abandon enrichment would “cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians.”

Mr McClellan held open the possibility of sanctions against Iran. “If the regime continues to move in the direction it is currently, then we will be talking about the way forward with the other members of the Security Council and Germany about how to address this going forward,” he said.

If Tehran fails to comply with U.N. demands, the United States and Europe are pressing for sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China have opposed. China yesterday urged a diplomatic solution to the Iranian question. “We still believe that negotiations and a diplomatic solution are the best way out of it,” Wang Guangya, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in New York in comments carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

Russia and Britain joined the U.S. in condemning Iran. “Definitely, this is a step in the wrong direction,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Krivtsov. “It runs counter to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board of Governors resolutions and a statement by the U.N. Security Council president.”

Britain’s Foreign Minister said he was “seriously concerned” by Iran’s declaration and urged Tehran to suspend its sensitive nuclear work and return to talks. “The latest Iranian statement further undermines international confidence in the Iranian regime and is deeply unhelpful,” British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said Wednesday in a statement.


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