TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted Iran was now a nuclear nation as he announced on Thursday the production of its first highly enriched uranium on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“One day they said we cannot enrich uranium, but with the resistance of our leader, nation … and with the help of God, the Iranian nation has become nuclear,” Ahmadinejad said.
“They (Americans) want to dominate our region but the Iranian people will never let them do that,” he said in a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square before a crowd of hundreds of thousands.
“The head of the atomic energy organisation (Ali Akbar Salehi) said the first stock of 20 percent fuel was produced and delivered to scientists,” he added.
Iran had previously enriched uranium to just 3.5 percent but has started enriching it to the higher level required for a Tehran medical research reactor after snubbing a UN-drafted plan for the nuclear fuel to be supplied by France and Russia.
Its defiance has drawn Western warnings of new UN sanctions, and the US Treasury Department on Wednesday imposed an asset freeze on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander and four subsidiaries of a construction firm owned or controlled by the elite force.
A restricted document of the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed on Thursday that Iran had informed the UN watchdog on Monday that it would start enriching uranium to 20 percent from Tuesday.
Iran to produce higher enriched uranium in days: IAEA
The one-page document said Iran had said it intended to enrich a small amount — about 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds) — to the higher level and had asked for the agency’s inspectors to be present at the enrichment plant at Natanz.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano noted that Iran currently had just one cascade of centrifuges at the Natanz plant capable of the additional enrichment.
Iran nuclear developments
Earlier this week, Iran’s atomic chief said the separate cascade was “more on a lab scale,” suggesting its output would be limited.
Ahmadinejad mocked Western governments’ focus on removing the majority of Iran’s existing stockpiles of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from the country.
He boasted that the Natanz plant, where Iran has been enriching uranium in defiance of UN Security Council ultimatums and sanctions, had the capacity to produce large quantities to replace any Iran shipped out.
“They think it is such a big job to take some hundred kilos of 3.5 pct uranium out of Iran,” he said, referring to the UN-drafted deal, which proposed supplying the fuel for the Tehran research reactor in return for Iran shipping out most of its stockpiles of LEU.
“We are making several kilos of this in Natanz every day. In the near future, inshallah, our daily production will be tripled.”
Ahmadinejad also questioned why Iran had drawn such a chorus of criticism with its announcement last Sunday that it would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent.
“Why do they (world powers) think that 20 percent is such a big deal? Right now in Natanz we have the capability to enrich at over 20 percent and at over 80 percent, but because we don’t need it, we won’t do it.”
Experts say that once Iran has enriched uranium to the 20 percent level, there is nothing to stop it carrying on to the 93 percent level needed to produce nuclear weapons as the technology is the same.
The West suspects Iran of using its nuclear programme as a cover for efforts to build the atomic bomb, a charge Iran strongly denies.
Patience over Iran ‘not inexhaustible’: British PM
The United States has stepped up the pressure on Iran since it announced on Tuesday that it had begun work to enrich uranium to 20 percent, which it says is for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Also in his speech, Ahmadinejad lashed out at US President Barack Obama, whom he accused of squandering an opportunity to change Washington’s traditional policy of support for the Jewish state.
“Unfortunately, the hope for change (in US policies) is in the process of rapidly changing to despair,” he said, referring to hopes stirred by the election of the superpower’s first black president.
“He (Obama) is missing opportunities and is not acting correctly,” Ahmadinejad told the crowd.
On Tuesday, the US president pushed for a “significant regime of sanctions” unless Iran accepts international proposals aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions.