AFP: Iran on Friday denied local media reports that the interior minister announced the Islamic republic had ramped up its nuclear capacity and built up a significant stockpile of enriched uranium. by Farhad Pouladi
TEHRAN, June 22, 2007 (AFP) – Iran on Friday denied local media reports that the interior minister announced the Islamic republic had ramped up its nuclear capacity and built up a significant stockpile of enriched uranium.
Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi was quoted by the ISNA student news agency as saying Iran had enriched and stored more than 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds) of enriched uranium.
The stockpiling of such a quantity would have marked an important step forward in Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a process the West fears could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
“We have currently 3,000 operational centrifuges and delivered more than 100 kilogrammes of enriched uranium to warehouses,” Pour Mohammadi was quoted as saying.
According to ISNA, Pour Mohammadi said in the speech in Khuzestan province that Iran had also stockpiled 150 tonnes of UF6 gas — the uranium gas that is fed into centrifuges to make enriched uranium.
“Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, in part of his speech, only pointed to Iran’s nuclear advances in producing uranium gas (UF6) and did not mention anything about the amount of enriched uranium and the number of installed centrifuges,” a ministry statement said.
“Therefore the recent comments attributed to him are denied.”
The fissile core of a nuclear weapon can also be built from between 15 and 25 kilos (33 and 55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium, according to experts.
However, Iran says it only enriches uranium to a level of just over 4.5 percent, well off the 90 percent and above degree required to make a nuclear bomb.
The West fears Tehran’s work is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, a charge vehemently denied by Iran which maintains that it seeks nuclear energy to produce electricity for its ever increasing population.
Previously, Iranian officials had said Iran had stockpiled 270 tonnes of UF6.
According to IAEA figures, Iran had as of May 13 more than 1,300 centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. Iran’s mid-term goal has always been to install 3,000 centrifuges.
The ministry’s public relations office recommended that “media, especially foreign media, to avoid publishing unofficial figures in this regard.”
Mohammadi’s reported comments, and their swift denial by the ministry, come at a hugely sensitive time in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Iran is under intense Western pressure and been hit by two sets of UN sanctions for its defiance for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment work. The United States is now leading efforts for a third set of sanctions.
However, both Iran and the West insist that the diplomatic track has not been exhausted.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was to arrive in Vienna later on Friday to meet Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
These discussions will be followed on Saturday by talks in Portugal between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
However, expectations of a breakthrough between Solana and Larijani are low after two similar meetings in the past two months failed to make significant progress.