x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Iran announces uranium enrichment success

Ahmadinejad tells cheering crowds that country has made 20% enriched nuclear fuel and 'will not be bullied by West'.

TEHRAN // A day after the US imposed new sanctions on Iran, the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claimed today that Iran has produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a higher level, saying his country will not be bullied by the West into curtailing its nuclear program. Mr Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of cheering Iranians on the anniversary of the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979 that the country was now a nuclear state, an announcement he has made before.

He insisted, however, that Iran had no intention of building nuclear weapons. It was not clear, just two days after it was announced that the process had started, how much enriched material had actually been produced. The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying the programme is merely geared toward generating electricity.

In a speech broadcast live on state television, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "I want to announce with a loud voice here that the first package of 20 per cent fuel was produced and provided to the scientists." Enriching uranium produces fuel for a nuclear power plants but can also be used to create material for atomic weapons if enriched further, to 90 per cent or more. "We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 per cent or 80 per cent but we don't enrich [to this level] because we don't need it," Mr Ahmadinejad.

Iran announced on Tuesday that it was beginning the process of enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. The international community reacted by discussing the imposition of new UN sanctions. Yesterday the US treasury department froze the assets in US jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general and four subsidiaries of a construction firm he runs for their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.

Iran has said it wants to further enrich the uranium, which is still substantially below the 90 per cent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads, as a part of a plan to fuel a research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment. But the West says Iran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears that the country wants to enrich the uranium to make nuclear weapons.

Mr Ahmadinejad restated Iran's position that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons. "When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb," he told the crowd. "If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it." He added: "We told them the Iranian nation will never give in to bullying and illogical remarks." Western powers blame Iran for rejecting an internationally endorsed plan to defuse the situation by having it export its low enriched uranium for enrichment abroad and returned as fuel rods for the Tehran reactor. Iran, in turn, asserts that it had no choice but to start enriching to higher levels because its suggested changes to the international plan were rejected. Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran will triple the production of its low-enriched uranium in the future, but did not elaborate. "God willing, daily production [of low enriched uranium) will be tripled," he said.

A confidential document from the UN nuclear agency said Iran's initial effort at higher enrichment is modest, using only a small amount of feedstock and a fraction of its capacities. * AP