Just weeks after the United Nations imposed tightened sanctions against Iran, the Tehran government defiantly has announced increased uranium enrichment capabilities, as revelations about an Iranian official's banned visit to Russia raised questions about the effectiveness of the new UN resolution.
The Guardian reports that on Monday, the one-year anniversary of Iran's announcement that it had attained a nuclear fuel cycle, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced at a televised ceremony that "the Iranian nation had joined the group of countries who enriched uranium on an industrial scale."
Before an audience that included his cabinet, senior mullahs and dozens of foreign ambassadors, Mr Ahmadinejad warned [UN] security council members that Iran would "reconsider its treatment towards them" if they continued to oppose its nuclear ambitions. "They have seen again and again that our nation is powerful enough to do that," he said to chants of "death to Britain", "death to America" and "death to Israel". "I advise them to observe the legal rights of different nations and stop monopolising, because that will not be to their benefit."
The Guardian also reports that Ali Larijani, Iran's top diplomat, said his country has 3,000 centrifuges capable of processing uranium. The Associated Press reports that the number of centrifuges allegedly operating is nearly 10 times the previously known number, and in theory is enough to produce a nuclear weapon within a year, but that there is skepticism in the US that Iran really has that many working centrifuges — "a difficult technical feat given the country's spotty success with a much smaller number."
Instead, the announcement may aim to increase support at home amid growing criticism of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to boost Iran's hand with the West by presenting its program as established, said Michael Levi, a nonproliferation expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
"From a political perspective, it's more important to have (3,000 centrifuges) in place than to have them run properly," Levi told The Associated Press. "We have an unfortunate habit to take Iran at its word when they make scary announcements."
Iranian news agency Press TV reports that Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, announced Iran's intentions to install 50,000 centrifuges in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, where the 3,000 existing centrifuges are located. He added that "the infrastructure, air conditioning facilities, power and all necessary equipment have been designed and installed for 50,000 centrifuges."
Reuters reports that US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Monday announcement is "another signal that Iran is defying the international community" and that it shows why UN sanctions against the country are justified.
The Jerusalem Post reports that senior Israeli officials are also skeptical of Iran's claims about its nuclear enrichment capabilities, and that Mr. Ahmadinejad is only engaging in "nuclear boasting."
Meanwhile, Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, an Iranian official who had been subject to travel restrictions under a UN resolution, recently went to Russia "without any problem whatsoever," which he said demonstrated "the ineffectiveness of the resolution." However, Kommersant reports that Russian officials disputed General Zolqadr's insinuation that the visit was a violation of the UN restrictions.
"Legally, the visit is unimpeachable," said Andrei Krivtsov, the deputy head of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry. "The UN sanctions in question do not prohibit visits by Iranian officials; they only stipulate mindfulness in relation to guests from Iran who have ties to the Iranian nuclear program. In that sense, everything is above board with Zolkadr — the nuclear program was not discussed during his visit." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin claimed that Moscow had informed the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council about the general's visit well in advance. Thus, the Russian side did not violate any UN agreements in hosting Mohammad Bakr-Zolkadr.
However, The New York Sun reports that "Western diplomats were livid" upon learning of the trip, and that US officials saw it as a clear violation of the UN resolution.
"The resolution is clear," a spokesman for the American mission to the United Nations, Richard Grenell, told the Sun. "Countries must use vigilance and restraint to ban the travel of certain individuals."
The resolution makes an exception in certain cases, when "compelling reasons" allow for travel. Mr. Grenell said, however, that council members understood those exceptions to include travel only to U.N. conferences or for religious purposes; neither of those applied in General Zolqadr's case.
Lastly, an analysis in The Jerusalem Post says that Iran's recent actions – the nuclear announcement, the capture of British soldiers, and the supplying of "terrorists" in Iraq – are all aimed at one purpose: to show up President Bush as a "paper tiger" incapable of responding to Iran's continued challenges.
With the Iranian economy tottering and growing criticism within senior circles in Teheran of his diplomatic conduct, Ahmadinejad's grip on power is far from firm. But he is willing to bet that his rivals are in an even more precarious situation.
With British Prime Minister Tony Blair about to resign in a few months, Israel still licking its wounds from the summer's war in Lebanon and a hostile Congress trying to limit Bush's powers to use the military, Ahmadinejad is convinced that Bush is too isolated to order a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.