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Iran declares key nuclear advance

BBC | April 12 2006

Iran's president says his nation has successfully produced the enriched uranium needed to make nuclear fuel.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had joined the nations with "nuclear technology" but again insisted it did not want nuclear weapons.

Tehran resumed enrichment research in February. Last month the UN gave Iran 30 days to halt work or face action.

The US responded to the latest news by saying that Iran was "moving in the wrong direction".

Western powers fear Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use.

US warning

In a televised speech in the north-western holy city of Mashhad, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "I am officially announcing that Iran has joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology."

His audience broke into cheers and chants of "Allahu akbar" (God is great).

Mr Ahmadinejad called on the nation's scientists to press ahead with "industrial-scale enrichment" and urged the West to respect what he called Iran's right to peaceful atomic technology.

He said the "nuclear fuel cycle had been completed" with the enrichment on Sunday at the Natanz plant.

Vice-president and atomic energy chief Gholam Reza Aghazadeh confirmed Iran had also produced 110 tons of uranium gas needed to feed the enrichment process - twice the amount it said last year that it had produced.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Tehran says international inspectors who are currently visiting Iran's nuclear sites have yet to confirm the production.

The US condemned Iran's announcement.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We would have hoped that the Iranian regime would have taken this opportunity to choose a pathway of diplomacy as opposed to the pathway of defiance."

Earlier ex-Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had told Kuwait's Kuna news agency Tehran had operated 164 centrifuges for the first time, achieving "industrial output".

The 164 centrifuges are needed to provide the cascade that creates enriched uranium.

But the process would only create the low-level enrichment needed for nuclear fuel.

Iran would need thousands of centrifuges to create the highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

Experts say Iran is years away from having a nuclear bomb.

BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says Iran's announcement is significant for two reasons.

Firstly it indicates Iran has taken a major step forward technically, and secondly it is in direct defiance of the UN Security Council's call and is likely therefore to lead to even greater confrontation with the West.

The timing of the announcement is also key.

On Wednesday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visits Iran to discuss its nuclear programme.

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