Iran Nuclear NewsUS: Iran enrichment plan risks cancer patients

US: Iran enrichment plan risks cancer patients

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ImageAP: A senior U.S. envoy accused Tehran's leadership Wednesday of hypocrisy for opting to pursue "ever more dangerous nuclear technology" instead of accepting an international plan meant to assure the supply of medical isotopes to Iranian cancer patients. The Associated Press

By GEORGE JAHN

ImageVIENNA (AP) — A senior U.S. envoy accused Tehran's leadership Wednesday of hypocrisy for opting to pursue "ever more dangerous nuclear technology" instead of accepting an international plan meant to assure the supply of medical isotopes to Iranian cancer patients.

The sharp criticism from Glyn Davies, the chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, came a day after Iran began enriching its uranium to a higher level, increasing international concerns about its nuclear aims.

Tehran says it wants to enrich only up to 20 percent — substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads — as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor providing medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.

But the West says Tehran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears Iran wants to enrich to make nuclear weapons.

The move is viewed with concern internationally because it would create material that could then be processed into weapons-grade uranium more quickly and with less effort than Iran's present stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium.

"Why is Tehran gambling with the health and lives of 850,000 Iranian cancer patients in pursuit of ever more dangerous nuclear technology?" asked Davies.

"This move is callous and chilling," he told The Associated Press.

David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said higher enrichment means that Iran is getting a step closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons.

"Iran is slowly expanding its breakout capability," Albright said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. He said achieving the 20-percent level "would be going most of the rest of the way to weapon-grade uranium."

Western powers blame Iran for rejecting an internationally endorsed plan to take Iranian low enriched uranium, further enriching it and returning it in the form of fuel rods for the reactor — and in broader terms for turning down other overtures meant to diminish concerns about its nuclear agenda.

Iran, in turn, asserts that it had no choice but to start enriching to higher levels because its suggested modifications to the plan were rejected.

That plan was welcomed internationally because it would have delayed Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapons by shipping out about 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium stockpile, leaving it without enough to make a bomb. Tehran denies nuclear weapons ambitions, insisting it needs to enrich to create fuel for an envisioned nuclear reactor network.

The proposal was endorsed by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — the six powers that originally elicited a tentative approval from Iran in landmark talks last fall. Since then, however, mixed messages from Tehran have infuriated the U.S. and its European allies, who claim Iran is only stalling for time as it attempts to build a nuclear weapon.

On Wednesday, Iranian Vice President Ali Akhbar Salehi said the process of higher enrichment was going smoothly while insisting that Iran was ready to stop any time it received the needed amount of 20-percent enriched uranium from abroad.

France and the U.S. have said Iran's action left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance. Russia, which has close ties to Iran and has opposed new sanctions, appeared to edge closer to Washington's position, with senior officials saying the new enrichment plans show the suspicions about Iran's intentions are well-founded.

Italy on Wednesday stepped up the call for sanctions, with Foreign Minister Franco Frattini telling news media he thought the European Union was united on the issue.

The wild card remains China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that can veto any attempts to impose a fourth set of U.N. sanction on Tehran for its nuclear defiance. Its officials continue to oppose new U.N. penalties on Iran, a key supplier of Beijing's energy needs.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA urged the West to "refrain from any language or threat and … sanctions," on the sidelines of Tehran's presentation of its domestically produced Omid telecommunications satellite at Vienna's U.N. complex

Beyond the nuclear issue, Iran's human rights record is also being internationally criticized.

In Geneva, senior U.S. State Department official John Limbert urged a U.N. rights body to shine a light on Tehran's mistreatment of prisoners, its repression of protesters and its imprisonment of journalists and intellectuals. Limbert was among dozens of Americans held captive in Iran during its Islamic revolution in 1979-1980.

Associated Press writers Ali Akhbar Dareini in Dubai and Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva contributed to this report.

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