Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Iran will celebrate the "stabilization" of its nuclear program as early as next week, a comment believed to mean Teheran will announce the start of installing 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
Ahmadinejad spoke as Iran kicked off 10 days of celebrations marking the 28th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-US Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought the hard-line clerics to power.
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The United States has already warned that installing the 3,000 centrifuges could spark further sanctions against Iran, which the United Nations has demanded suspend its uranium enrichment program.
The defiant Iranian leader has said his government is determined to continue with its nuclear program, despite the UN Security Council sanctions imposed in December for its refusal to halt enrichment, a process that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or an atomic bomb.
The nation will celebrate "the stabilization and the establishment of its full right" to enrich uranium, Ahmadinejad said Thursday, as he paid tribute at a shrine of the 1979 revolution's leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini outside Tehran.
"The government is required to fulfill this (nuclear) national will," the president was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Last week, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency said Iran intended to begin work in February on an underground facility for the centrifuges. "I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000 centrifuge facility ... sometime next month," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said.
The status of the new centrifuges has been unknown because for the past month, Iran has repeatedly given contradictory statements. It is already behind schedule because Teheran had originally said last year that the installation would at least begin by the end of 2006.
Ahmadinejad's remarks Thursday signal the announcement on the new centrifuges might come before Feb. 11, when Iran stages annual nationwide celebrations in memory of the Islamic revolution.
Ahamdinejad said Iranians will take to streets that day to support Iran's nuclear program.
"Enemies of the Iranian nation ... must know that their wrongful beliefs will be revealed once again during Feb. 11 rallies by the great Iranian nation," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Installation of 3,000 centrifuges will be seen as a huge technological advancement, enabling Iran to enrich large quantities of uranium.
For now, the only known assembled centrifuge cascades in Iran are above ground at Natanz, consisting of two linked chains of 164 machines each and two smaller setups.
The two larger cascades have been running only sporadically to produce small quantities of non-weapons grade enriched uranium, while the smaller assemblies have been underground "dry testing" since November, IAEA inspectors have reported.
Iran ultimately plans to expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges, a large operation enriching more uranium within a shorter period of time.
Ahmadinejad, whose hard-line nuclear diplomacy tactics has faced strong criticism from both reformists and conservatives, hinted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not him, makes key decisions.
"The general policies of the system are made by the Exalted Supreme Leader and the government is required to carry them out," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad saying.
"The president, as the head of the country's executive body, pursues and announces the nuclear position," he said.
His comments are apparently aimed at convincing his critics to support his government in the standoff with the West.