Iranian president announces nuclear milestone
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remains defiant about nuclear progress, even as Washington tries to drum up support for more sanctions.
With threats of new sanctions against his country swirling, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a typically defiant tone on Wednesday, calling his country's nuclear progress "irreversible," and emphasizing success at its Natanz underground nuclear site.Skip to next paragraph
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In a speech to loyalists, President Ahmedinejad asserted the country now has 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, which could produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or a bomb, Reuters reports.
Western experts say 3,000 machines running smoothly for long periods at supersonic speed could make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb in about a year, if Iran wanted, and form the basis for "industrial-scale" nuclear fuel production.
"The Iranian nation has entered the phase of industrial scale of nuclear fuel [production] and the train of the Iranian nation's progress is irreversible," Ahmadinejad told a rally in South Khorasan province broadcast live on state television.
Iran now appears to have nearly 3,000 installed, divided into 18 cascades of 164 each, diplomats and analysts said, but there is still no evidence they are being run together, or that all are being fed with uranium for enrichment.
On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates traveled to China, partly in the hope of gaining more support for heightened sanctions against Iran. Agence France-Presse reports that China appears unmoved from its position that anything beyond diplomacy is required.
The US defence secretary made no apparent headway on an appeal for Chinese support for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme in his talks here Monday, when he was told China preferred diplomatic dialogue to economic pressure.
But a senior US defence official told reporters that in the meeting with Hu he would push for further discussions on Iran.
China has joined Russia, also a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, in opposing a further round of UN economic sanctions to step up the pressure against Tehran, which has defied international demands that it halt its uranium enrichment programme.
While Russia and China, both powerful at the United Nations, appear opposed to heightened sanctions, the Bush administration is finding allies in its quest for tougher measures against Tehran. The German government broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that during his visit to Washington this week, French President Nikolas Sarkozy expressed differences on some international issues but appeared to largely share Washington's concerns over Iran.
Sarkozy may not see eye-to-eye with Bush on policy in Iraq, but "that doesn't influence our friendship," said the French president, who also hailed US courage after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The two are in agreement, however, on the Iran nuclear standoff and Paris has repeatedly supported stronger sanctions.
"The hypothesis of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the current leaders of Iran is for France inacceptable (sic)," said Sarkozy, adding that civilian nuclear energy is a right, also for Iran.