Iran said Monday that it was now capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, a development that would defy two United Nations resolutions passed to press the country to suspend its enrichment program.
The announcement was greeted with skepticism by Western diplomats and nuclear experts, who said the declaration seemed to have more to do with political showmanship than technical progress.
While reporters were invited to the country’s main nuclear complex at Natanz, they were not shown any evidence that enrichment of uranium, the step needed to make reactor fuel or bomb fuel, was under way.
In a speech on Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that if the West did not end its pressure against Iran to halt the production of uranium, Iran would review its policy of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear monitoring entity.
It was unclear whether that was a threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as North Korea did four years ago, but Mr. Ahmadinejad said the West “should know that the Iranian nation will defend its rights and that this path is irreversible.”
“With great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told government officials, diplomats, and foreign and local journalists at the Natanz site. “This nuclear fuel is definitely for the development of Iran and expansion of peace in the world.”
The government had decreed April 9 a national nuclear technology day. Monday was the first anniversary of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s announcement that Iran had produced enriched uranium at a pilot plant.
The spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, told reporters traveling with President Bush that the administration was “very concerned” about Iran’s declaration, adding,
“Iran’s decision to limit even further its cooperation with the I.A.E.A. is unacceptable.” But the administration has carefully avoided making specific threats about how it might respond, other than to press for tightening sanctions through the United Nations Security Council.
The Council unanimously passed a resolution on March 24 to expand sanctions on Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear program. The resolution barred all arms exports and froze some of the financial assets of 28 Iranians linked to the country’s military and nuclear programs.
The United States and some European governments have accused Iran of having a clandestine weapons program, but Iran contends that its program is peaceful, for energy purposes, and that it wants to produce fuel for its reactors, the New York Times reports.
Iran is known to have had 328 centrifuges operating at its Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran. For months, it has been saying it plans to launch an expanded program of 3,000, likely to be set up in a large underground area at Natanz to protect them from air strikes.
"I declare that as of today, our dear country has joined the nuclear club of nations and can produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," Ahmadinejad said in a speech during a ceremony at Natanz marking the one-year anniversary of the first successful enrichment of uranium there.
His comments suggested Iran was able to produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear reactor consistently, but he did not announce the start of the 3,000 centrifuges.
Asked by reporters at the ceremony if Iran has begun injecting uranium gas into 3,000 centrifuges for enrichment, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani replied, "Yes." He did not say specifically whether all were working.
In the enrichment process, uranium gas is pumped into centrifuges, which spin and purify the gas. Enriched to a low degree, the result is fuel for a reactor, but to a high degree it creates the material for a nuclear warhead.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop weapons, a charge Tehran denies, the AP reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik