By James Phillips
Iran’s government announced that it was pushing ahead with plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent levels, ostensibly to fuel a research reactor.
The latest Iranian zig zag came only days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that Iran was open to a deal on exchanging some of its stockpile of low enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that the United Nations offered last year. Ahmadinejad suggested that he had made the decision to escalate Iran’s enrichment efforts because western powers failed to accept Iran’s counter-offer: “We gave them two-to-three months’ time for such a deal. They started a new game and now I (ask) Dr Salehi to start work on the production of 20 percent fuel using centrifuges.” Salehi was in the audience at the ceremony.
Iranian nuclear official Ali Asghar Soltanieh today told the Associated Press that Tehran will shortly begin to further enrich some of its 1.8 ton stockpile of low enriched uranium to produce fuel for a research reactor that it claims produces medical isotopes. Such a step would also bring Iran much closer to producing more highly enriched uranium that could be used to arm a nuclear weapon.
By threatening to expand its uranium enrichment program by enriching at higher levels, the Iranian regime deliberately flaunts its defiance of five United Nations Security Council resolutions and three sets of sanctions. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner reacted strongly to the latest Iranian ploy: “This is real blackmail. The only thing that we can do, alas, is apply sanctions given that negotiations are not possible.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was meeting with French officials in Paris, also expressed exasperation with Tehran. Gates stated that the Obama Administration still wanted to “try and find a peaceful way to resolve this issue” but added: “The only path that is left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track, but it will require all of the international community to work together.”
Meanwhile Iran’s government remains acutely aware that some western officials may see a different path ahead for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Air Force commander Heshmatollah Kassiri announced that Iran is developing a sophisticated air defense system that will be unveiled “in the near future.” Kassiri warned that: “The country’s air defenses are strong enough to confront the enemies … and we will never let them get close to our sensitive nuclear centers.”