While predicting Iran will still obtain nuclear power by the end of the decade, Western sources have told The Jerusalem Post
that the Islamic Republic has recently encountered major technological complications in its attempts to enrich uranium.
According to these sources, Iran's nuclear program has encountered "serious" obstacles on its way to crossing the nuclear technological threshold and obtaining independent research and development capabilities. The obstacles have pushed off predictions regarding the point Iran would obtain these capabilities, with Western sources now claiming Iran will cross the technological threshold only in late 2007.
Gates's shocking thinking on Iran (editorial)
Despite the setbacks in the enrichment of uranium - a critical step in the development of a nuclear bomb - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced plans last month to build 60,000 additional centrifuges, leading Western sources to believe that it was only a matter of time before Iran overcame the technological obstacle. Pakistan encountered similar difficulties in its nuclear program but eventually overcame them.
Experts speculated that the enrichment difficulties Iran was encountering at its plant at Natanz could be behind Iran's gaining interest in constructing a heavy-water nuclear plant near the town of Arak to produce plutonium, which can also be used to build a bomb.
According to nuclear experts, Iran would need 3,000 working centrifuges to successfully enrich uranium. At the moment, Iran has two working cascades - each consisting of 164 centrifuges - at Natanz with which it claimed in April to have enriched uranium to 3.5 percent. For a bomb, uranium needs to be enriched to 90% or SQ, a nuclear technical term for Significant Quantity.
Once Iran completes the construction of the centrifuges and masters the technology it will still take a year to reach SQ and then another two years to assemble a nuclear device, or in 2010.
Teheran has said it intends to activate 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006 and then increase the program to 54,000 centrifuges. Iranian officials say that would produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a 1,000-megawatt reactor, such as that being built by Russia and nearing completion at Bushehr.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that sanctions would not force his country to abandon its nuclear program.
United Nations sanctions "would only complicate the situation" and could make it worse, Mottaki told diplomats and reporters during a visit to the Hague. He said sanctions were "not acceptable. And definitely it will bring some changes in our approach."
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council and diplomats from other key nations met in Paris to discuss possible sanctions against Iran, which is suspected of seeking to build a nuclear arsenal. Teheran insists it only wants civilian nuclear energy.
"We hope the other parties come back to talks or negotiations," Mottaki said at the Clingendael Institute, an international relations think tank.
But he repeated that even if Iran was subjected to sanctions, it would not seek nuclear arms. "The time for nuclear weapons is over," he said.
He said that, as a signatory to various international arms treaties, Iran would never use or make weapons of mass destruction.
During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Iranian generals "returned to Ayatollah Khomeini, and said 'please, let us prepare a little bit of chemical weapons to prevent Saddam'" Hussein from using them, Mottaki said.
But Khomeini refused. "Iran was committed (to international restrictions) even during a time of war," Mottaki said.
"Any sanction on Iran will only strengthen our resolve to advance our independence," he said, repeating that Iran had the right under international law to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
AP contributed to the report.