Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Thursday that Iran had produced its first batch of 20 per cent enriched uranium at a time there is a growing view in the West that Tehran is bluffing.
Iran was now a nuclear state, Ahmadinejad told a huge rally of supporters on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Experts say that once Iran can enrich uranium to 20 per cent it should move relatively quickly toward 90 per cent purification, weapons-grade fuel.
Iran is experiencing surprising setbacks in its efforts to enrich uranium, according to new assessments that suggest equipment failures and other difficulties could undermine that nation’s plans for dramatically scaling up its nuclear program.
Former U.S. officials and independent nuclear experts say continued technical problems could also delay — though probably not halt — Iran’s march toward achieving nuclear-weapons capability, giving the US and its allies more time to press for a diplomatic solution. In recent months, Israeli officials have been less vocal in their demands that Western nations curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
Indications of Iran’s diminished capacity to enrich uranium arise just as the Obama administration begins to take sterner action to compel Iran to abandon enrichment.
On Wednesday, the Treasury Department announced new U.S. sanctions against companies it says are affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key player in the country’s nuclear and missile programs.
While Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, Western nations suspect that the country is intent on developing an atomic bomb. The program prompts frequent international posturing, such as Iran’s announcement last year that it would expand its nuclear facilities tenfold and more recent statements from Western leaders that the time has come to apply tougher international sanctions against the country.
Beneath this rhetoric, U.N. reports over the last year have shown a drop in production at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, near the city of Natanz. At least through the end of 2009, the Natanz plant appears to have performed so poorly that sabotage cannot be ruled out as an explanation, according to a draft study by David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
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