Vienna: Iran on Sunday said the UN nuclear agency
that it will start enriching uranium to higher levels,
shrugging off international fears that such a move will bring
it closer to being able to make nuclear warheads.
Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh sought to dispel such
concerns. The uranium to be enriched to 20 per cent would be
used only to make fuel for Tehran`s research reactor, which is
expected to use up its present stock within a year, he said to a news agency.
Soltanieh, who represents Iran at the Vienna-based
International Atomic Energy Agency, also said that IAEA
inspectors would be able to fully monitor the process. And he
blamed world powers for Iran`s decision, asserting that it was
their fault that a plan that foresaw Russian and French
involvement in supplying the research reactor had failed.
"Until now, we have not received any response to our
positive logical and technical proposal," he said. "We cannot
leave hospitals and patients desperately waiting for radio
isotopes" being produced at the Tehran reactor and used in
cancer treatment, he added.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already
announced yesterday that his country would significantly
enrich at least some of the country`s stockpile of uranium.
Still, today`s notification to the IAEA was important as
formal confirmation of the plan, particularly because of the
rash of conflicting signals sent in recent months by Iranian
officials on the issue.
The Iranian move came just days after Ahmadinejad
appeared to move close to endorsing the original deal, which
foresaw Tehran exporting the bulk of its low-enriched uranium
to Russia for further enrichment and then conversion for fuel
rods for the research reactor.
The plan was endorsed by the US, Russia, China, Britain,
France and Germany - the six powers that originally elicited a
tentative approval from Iran in landmark talks last fall.
Since then, however, mixed messages from Tehran have
infuriated the US and its European allies, who claim Iran is
only stalling for time as it attempts to build a nuclear
The original plan was welcomed internationally because it
would have delayed Iran`s ability to make a nuclear weapons by
shipping out most of its low-enriched uranium stockpile.
Although material for the fissile core of a nuclear
warhead must be enriched to a level of 90 percent or more,
just getting its stockpile to the 20 percent mark would be a
major step for the country`s nuclear program. While enriching
to 20 percent would take about one year, using up to 2,000
centrifuges at Tehran`s underground Natanz facility, any next
step - moving from 20 to 90 percent - would take only half a
year and between 500-1,000 centrifuges.
Achieving the 20-percent level "would be going most of
the rest of the way to weapon-grade uranium," said David
Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and
International Security tracks suspected proliferators.