AFP: Iran vowed on Monday to expand its uranium enrichment programme to meet its nuclear fuel needs within a year, in defiance of UN Security Council calls to halt the controversial work amid fears it is seeking to build the bomb. TEHRAN, Nov 20, 2006 (AFP) – Iran vowed on Monday to expand its uranium enrichment programme to meet its nuclear fuel needs within a year, in defiance of UN Security Council calls to halt the controversial work amid fears it is seeking to build the bomb.
“We intend to have 60,000 centrifuges and Inshallah (God willing) Iran will meet its nuclear fuel needs by next year,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
Iran had previously said it was looking to install 3,000 centrifuges by March 2007, which is a massive step from its two cascades of 164 centrifuges currently operating on a research level in its Natanz plant.
Experts say that 50,000 centrifuges would normally be enough to produce 20 kilos (44 pounds) of weapons grade uranium — which is enriched to more than 90 percent — in under a month.
Oil-rich Iran vehemently denies it seeks the bomb, insisting its only wants to enrich uranium up to five percent to produce nuclear fuel for its energy needs.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told ISNA that Ahmadinejad’s announcement showed “Iran’s definitive entrance into the domain of producing (nuclear) fuel on an industrial level”.
Ahmadinejad’s comments came as the United States and Europe were to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to reject an Iranian request for help in building a reactor that could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Iran is requesting technical help in guaranteeing safety at a heavy-water reactor under construction in Arak, 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Tehran.
The UN atomic agency is expected to rebuff Iran’s request although an IAEA investigation has not yet concluded whether Iran is hiding work on developing nuclear weapons.
Iran has vowed to press ahead in Arak, even without IAEA help.
The major powers have been debating a draft UN resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Germany that would impose limited sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile sectors for Tehran’s failure to comply with an earlier UN resolution on halting enrichment.
The United States is seeking to impose tough sanctions on Iran but it is faced with opposition from two permanent Security Council members, China and Russia, which have major trade and energy ties with Iran.
US President George W. Bush has never ruled out a military option against Iran and several Israeli officials have also talked of the possibility of an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites to curb Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.
Israel which is believed to have the only — if undeclared — nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, views Iran as its main enemy pointing to Ahmadinejad’s calls for the Jewish state to be “wiped off the map”.
But Ahmadinejad dismissed the Israeli threats of a military strike as “propaganda”, saying “at the moment the Zionist regime will not attack Iran, because it has many problems”.
In an article for the New Yorker, US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said taking a military step against Iran was “still very much on the table” in the Bush administration despite Democrats’ victory in US congressional elections which unleashed a surge of calls to begin direct talks with Iran.
Hersh also reported that a classified draft CIA assessment had found no firm evidence of a secret drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as alleged by the White House.
The White House dismissed the article about Washington’s intentions toward Iran as “riddled with inaccuracies.”