Tehran proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how on Wednesday – including new
centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster – a move that may hasten a drift
toward confrontation with the West over suspicions it is seeking the means to
make atomic bombs.
The nuclear achievements proclaimed by Tehran also
involved the loading of its first domestically produced batch of fuel into a
research reactor that is expected to soon run out of imported stocks.
Islamic Republic was driving home its resolve to pursue a nuclear program that
its hard-line clerical leaders see as a pillar of power, protection and
prestige, despite Western sanctions that are inflicting increasing damage on its
Iran also aimed to show that the tightening sanctions
noose has failed to stop it from making progress in nuclear technology and to
firm up its hand in any renewed negotiations with world powers.
of bullying nations has passed. The arrogant powers cannot monopolize nuclear
technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing sanctions and resolutions but
failed,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a live television broadcast. “Our
nuclear path will continue.”
One Israeli official responded to
Wednesday’s Iranian moves by saying that Tehran was still trying to convince the
world that its program was meant to produce nuclear isotopes for medical
purposes, but that if anyone still believed them, then they also probably
believed “in the Easter Bunny.”
“Their underlying message is that this is
all for civilian purposes,” the official said. “But everyone knows that the
Iranian program is not about isotopes. There is an international consensus now
that this program is not benign.”
However, Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam television said the
Iranian government has handed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton expressing readiness to “hold new talks over its nuclear program in a
An Ashton spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the letter,
saying she was evaluating it and would consult with the United States, Russia,
China and other partners among the big powers.
Iranian officials have
long refused to negotiate curbs on its program, saying it aims solely to produce
electricity for booming domestic demand in OPEC’s No. 2 oilexporting
Underlining the high stakes, and at times nervous confusion,
arising from the nuclear standoff, Iran’s Oil Ministry denied a state media
report that it cut off oil exports to six European Union states. Brent crude-oil
prices jumped up $1 a barrel to $118.35 in reaction to the
“We deny this report... If such a decision is made, it will
be announced by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council,” a spokesman for the
ministry told Reuters.
Iran’s English language Press TV said Tehran had
halted oil deliveries to France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and
Spain – its biggest EU customers – in retaliation for an EU ban on Iranian crude
due to take effect in July.
After the EU’s decision on January 23 to
impose stronger sanctions, hard-line Iranian parliamentarians mooted legislation
to freeze oil exports to the EU, but no date for a session to take such a step
has been set.
“It is not really surprising that we are seeing this chaos
as it reflects the fractured political process in Iran,” said Nic Brown, head of
commodities research at the Natixis corporate and investment bank in
“You have the Oil Ministry responsible for revenues, while other
parts of the government are trying to make political statements. At the end of
the day, they need revenues and they will remain dependent on the Europeans if
they cannot place their oil elsewhere. Iran remains absolutely dependent on
income from its oil exports,” Brown told Reuters.
The Islamic Republic is
the world’s No. 5 oil-exporter, with 2.6 million barrels going abroad daily, and
the EU consumes around a fifth of those volumes.
With Western sanctions
now spreading to block Iran’s oil exports and central bank financing of trade,
Tehran has been resorting to barter to import staples such as rice, cooking oil
and tea, commodities traders say.
The most recent talks between world
powers and Iran failed in January 2011 because of Tehran’s unwillingness to
discuss transparent limits on nuclear enrichment, as demanded by several UN
Security Council resolutions passed since 2006.
Tehran has for years been
developing and testing new generations of centrifuges to replace its outdated,
erratic P- 1 model. In January it said it had successfully manufactured and
tested its own fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants.
said the “fourth generation” of centrifuge would be able to refine uranium three
If Iran eventually succeeded in introducing modern
centrifuges for production, it could significantly shorten the time needed to
stockpile enriched uranium, which can generate electricity or, if refined much
more, nuclear explosions.
Last year, Iran installed two newer models for
large-scale testing at a research site near the central town of
“We have seen this before. We have seen these
announcements and these grand unveilings and it turns out that there was less
there than meets the eye. I suspect this is the same case,” said Shannon Kile at
the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
However, in a
further comment that may add to Western worries, Ahmadinejad said Iran had
significantly increased the number of centrifuges at its main enrichment site at
Natanz, saying there were now 9,000 such machines installed there.
last report on Iran in November, the UN nuclear watchdog said there were 8,000
installed centrifuges at Natanz, of which up to 6,200 were
France said Tehran’s latest moves again demonstrated that it
would rather ignore international obligations than cooperate.
statements are an extra concern for the international community,” Deputy Foreign
Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.
“The Iranian military nuclear
program constitutes one of the most serious threats to peace not only in the
world but in the region. We are convinced that Iran continues to develop this
program. [Today’s] announcements reinforce that conviction.”
British Foreign Office spokesman said: “[This] does not give any confidence that
Iran is ready to engage meaningfully on the international community’s
well-founded concerns about its nuclear program. Until it does so we’ll
only increase peaceful and legitimate pressure on Iran to return to
But Russia said global powers must work harder to coax
concessions from Iran, warning that Tehran’s preparedness for compromise was
waning as it makes progress toward the capability to build nuclear
Making a case for a renewed dialogue, Deputy Foreign Minister
Sergei Ryabkov said UN sanctions and additional measures introduced by Western
nations had had “zero” effect on its nuclear program.
Iran has threatened
retaliation for any attack or effective ban on its oil exports, suggesting it
could seal off the main Gulf export shipping channel, the Strait of Hormuz, used
by a third of the world’s crude oil tankers.
State television aired live
footage of Ahmadinejad loading Iranian-made fuel rods into the Tehran Research
Reactor and called it “a sign of Iranian scientists’ achievements.”
reactor produces radioisotopes for use in medical treatments and
Iran says it was forced to manufacture its own fuel for the
Tehran reactor after failing to agree to terms for a deal to obtain it from the
West to replenish imported Argentinean stocks that will run out soon.
2010, the Islamic Republic alarmed the West by starting to enrich uranium to a
fissile purity of 20 percent for the stated purpose of reprocessing it into
special fuel for the Tehran reactor.
In boosting enrichment up from the
3.5% level suitable for powering civilian-nuclear plants, Iran moved
significantly closer to the 90% threshold suitable for the fissile core of a
Analysts remained doubtful that Iran would be able to
operate the research reactor with its own special fuel.