IRAN TO BEGIN ENRICHING ITS URANIUM –after US turns down compromise offer

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IRAN has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its plans to enrich uranium to 20 per cent – after its offer to send uranium abroad to Russia and France for enrichment was rejected by the West.

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has met US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates to build an imperialist coalition against Tehran.

Iran officially notified the IAEA on Monday of its plans.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the UN agency, said: ‘About 12 o’clock today, we delivered a letter officially announcing to the agency that we are going to start activities for the enrichment up to 20 per cent in order to produce the fuel required for the Tehran research reactor.

‘And in the same letter I invited the agency’s inspectors to be present during this whole process because we always put all activities, including enrichment, under IAEA supervision and surveillance and control.’

Iran’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced last weekend that Iran would begin enriching uranium to 20 per cent from Tuesday, and that the IAEA would be informed of its decision before then.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters in Paris that the Iranians ‘do not know how’ to enrich uranium to 20 per cent for use in its medical research reactor, and accused Iran of ‘blackmail’.

‘I’m sorry to say that knowledge is incorrect,’ Soltanieh responded, adamant that Iran would be able to enrich its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 20 per cent.

‘We do have the capability of going to 20 per cent,’ he said.

‘And we have the capability to work on the fuel fabrication,’ he added, dismissing suggestions that Iran would not be able to turn the 20 per cent enriched fuel into fuel rods.

Soltanieh commented that, only a few years ago, the international community said Iran would never be able to enrich uranium, ‘but we have been able to do it’.

He continued: ‘Then they said we wouldn’t be able to go to the next stage, in the cascade arrangement of the machines. We were able.

‘Then they said, we could not go to industrial production, but we were able.’

Soltanieh said Iran had decided to enrich on its own, because world powers had so far not responded to its own suggestions for a managed fuel swap.

‘It’s about eight months that we are waiting since the letter of June 2nd 2009, that I wrote to the IAEA’s former director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, and more than four months passed since our negotiations with France, US and Russia and IAEA in Vienna,’ he complained.

But there had been no response so far, he said.

‘Therefore we had to choose other options and namely to produce it ourselves for our research reactor which is producing radioisotopes for hospitals.’

Soltanieh was asked when Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz would be ready to actually start enriching to higher levels.

He said that preparations were beginning now.

But it may be a while before the 20 per cent enriched uranium is actually produced.

‘It takes time but we’ll do it,’ he insisted.

French President Sarkozy and US Secretary of Defence Gates are trying to rally support within the United Nations against Iran.

The US is setting up missile shields in the Gulf, raising the threat of an attack on Iran.

‘France has been taking a very tough stance on Iran,’ a senior US official said.

‘We want to take up the resolution (against Iran) while the French are chairing the UN Security Council.’

Meanwhile, Iran says it is getting ready to defend itself and is manufacturing a home-built missile defence system which would be better than the Russian S-300 system, which it has ordered but which is yet to be delivered.

‘Today, we are building all our air defence weapons by ourselves . . . the only thing we wanted to import was the Russian S-300 which so far they have not delivered for some unacceptable reasons,’ senior airforce commander Heshmatollah Kasiri said at the start of this week.

‘Our air defence experts and scientists found a way, and in the very near future we will produce an air defence system which has the capabilities of the Russian S-300 or even more,’ Kasiri was quoted as saying by Iranian news agency IRNA.

Iranian officials blame the growing delay in Russia’s delivery of the S-300 defence system on growing pressure being exerted on the Russian government by the United States and Israel.

The United States has a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons and Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East – with a stockpile of more than 200 nuclear bombs.

But they do not want Iran to develop its own nuclear energy, even though Iran has insisted this is for purely peaceful purposes.

In October, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Iran had not yet paid for the missile defence system because the Russian government had not given its final approval for the deal, a deal which had set alarm bells ringing in Washington.

Under the proposed contract, Russia was to sell Iran five batteries of S-300PMU1 missiles for around $800 million.

The S-300PMU1 – codenamed the SA-20 Gargoyle by NATO – is a mobile, land-based system designed to defend against a cruise missile attack from NATO aircraft.

Iran could use the system to boost defences around its nuclear sites against any Israeli or US air strike.

The United States and Israel have refused to exclude the possibility of a military attack on Iran.

But Iran insists it is enriching uranium for purely peaceful purposes.

Iran needs to increase its energy capacity to support the needs of its growing population.

It exports crude oil and gas but is already dependant on importing an estimated 40 per cent of its petrol products from abroad.

Meanwhile, Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi has opened two production lines for the manufacture of advanced unmanned aircraft, or drones, the Fars news agency reports.

The drones would further strengthen Iran’s defences.

Iran has been announcing a spate of technological and military achievements in the run-up to the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which toppled the Western-backed dictatorship of the Shah.

Ahead of the anniversary celebrations, the US administration and the European Union attacked the Iranian government, saying: ‘We are particularly concerned by the potential for further violence and repression during the coming days, especially around the anniversary of the Islamic Republic’s founding on February 11.’

This follows the clashes that took place in Iran after the re-election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Hundreds of people have been detained since last summer.

But whilst there is anger amongst Iranian workers at the level of unemployment and attacks on their living standards, there is also massive hostility to the American government, Israel and their allies, like the British government, over their threats to attack the country.