Iran Nuclear NewsIran opens a heavy-water reactor

Iran opens a heavy-water reactor


New York Times: Just days before it is supposed to suspend enrichment of uranium or face the prospect of sanctions, Iran continues to project an image of defiance and confidence. Its position regarding the demand that it suspend enrichment remains a determined “no.” The New York Times

Published: August 27, 2006

TEHRAN, Aug. 26 — Just days before it is supposed to suspend enrichment of uranium or face the prospect of sanctions, Iran continues to project an image of defiance and confidence. Its position regarding the demand that it suspend enrichment remains a determined “no.”

On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a provocative, if symbolic, gesture by formally inaugurating a heavy-water reactor. The Iranians say the plant would be used for peaceful power generation. But nuclear experts note that heavy-water facilities are more useful for weapons because they produce lots of plutonium — the preferred ingredient for missile warheads.

“There are no talks of nuclear weapons in Iran,” President Ahmadinejad said as he announced the opening of the plant. “And we are not a threat for any country, even the Zionist regime that is the enemy of the countries in the region.”

But he added, “We tell the Western countries not to cause trouble for themselves because the Iranian people are determined to take big steps.”

The action was the latest in a series of not-too-veiled threats against the West if Iran is saddled with sanctions.

But Iran’s public posture has all but guaranteed that the members of the United Nations Security Council will have to at least address Iran’s violations of the resolution setting Aug. 31 as the deadline for suspending enrichment.

Iran’s public confidence is based on three primary factors, political analysts here said: a strong belief that two of the council’s permanent members, Russia and China, will support Iran’s call for talks and oppose moving toward sanctions; the conclusion that the United States is far too bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan to be willing to engage in another conflict in the region; and the feeling that the perceived victory of Hezbollah in its war with Israel has strengthened Iran’s political capital in the region.

“After the defeat of Israel by Hezbollah forces, China and Russia should not want to leave the side that won the war, which is the Islamic world,” said Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the conservative daily newspaper Kayhan.

On Tuesday, Iranian officials formally responded to a package of incentives that Western diplomats had hoped would encourage Tehran to voluntarily suspend uranium enrichment. Iran still faces an Aug. 31 deadline to comply with the Security Council resolution threatening punitive actions if Iran does not stop.

Though Iran’s response was accompanied by moderate comments from Iranian officials, it did not accept suspension. The 21-page document was provided to the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany at a meeting in Tehran. The Swiss ambassador accepted it on behalf of the United States, which does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.

While the details of the response were not released, Mr. Shariatmadari, who was appointed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the package noted 50 “ambiguities” in the incentives package that needed clarification. Those, he said, included questions as basic as “Who is responsible for implementing the incentives,” he said. “The E.U., the U.S., the nuclear agency, who?”

Soon after it gave its reply, Iran’s public posture reverted back to confrontation. The deputy speaker of Parliament, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, cautioned that too much pressure on Iran could lead to calls for a nuclear weapons program.

“Our country is confronted with illogical countries who have nuclear weapons,” he was quoted as saying in Saturday’s edition of the reformist newspaper Shargh. “If they put too much pressure, our people might ask the government to produce nuclear weapons as a deterrent instrument.”

On Friday, a midlevel cleric, Ahmad Khatami, said during a Friday Prayer ceremony that the West ought to be cautious in the way it addressed Iran.

“You cannot use the language of force against this nation,” Mr. Khatami said in a speech broadcast around the nation from central Tehran. “Do not test us as you have tested us before.”

As is customary, Mr. Khatami stood with his right hand gripping the barrel of an automatic weapon as he addressed thousands of people gathered for the ceremony. “You cannot deal with a nation as great as the Iranian nation this way. It is a very stupid approach. Russia and China, we count on you to be careful not to fall into the trap America has set for you.”

For Iran, the issue of its nuclear program is as much about domestic politics as it is about international relations.

President Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist economic message, promising a redistribution of the nation’s vast oil wealth and immediate economic improvements. Instead, while the economy remains gridlocked, inflation and unemployment high, Mr. Ahmadinejad has turned the nuclear issue into his raison d’être. Focusing on national pride, the president and Ayatollah Khamenei have succeeded in winning public support for the nuclear program.

While the depth of that support could be tested by sanctions, the president continued to appeal to pride as he opened the heavy-water plant in Arak, south of Tehran.

“Having nuclear technology and using it is a blessing and is the right of all nations, including Iran,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “As the people’s representative, I pursue whatever people want. Today they want to have nuclear technology and I pursue this demand and will not back down.”

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