First Published: 2007-04-10

 
Iran targets 50,000 centrifuges at nuclear plant
 

Tehran's latest act of defiance sets stage for new round of nuclear diplomacy on different scales.

 

Middle East Online

By David Millikin - WASHINGTON

3,000 centrifuges have already been installed at the Natanz plant

Iran's announcement that it has expanded its uranium enrichment sets the stage for a US push for more sanctions, but also for a parallel European bid to negotiate a way out of the crisis, US officials and analysts said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a high profile speech at Iran's main nuclear site on Monday to announce that the country had set up an "industrial scale" operation to enrich uranium.

Non-proliferation experts said industrial scale would mean operating around 3,000 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, compared to the 164 centrifuges Iran had previously declared.

Iran is aiming to have 50,000 centrifuges running, said Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's atomic energy organisation.

Iran has already been hit with two sets of UN sanctions for refusing to suspend its reprocessing work, which the West fears is aimed at producing nuclear weapons but Tehran insists is only designed to make fuel for atomic power stations.

Experts suggested Iran's latest act of defiance could provide the basis for a face-saving resolution of the crisis when European and Iranian negotiators meet in coming weeks.

But the US responded sharply to Ahdaminejad's statement, saying Iran's continued defiance would lead to tougher sanctions. The last sanctions resolution adopted on March 24 set a 60-day deadline for Iran's compliance.

"We are very concerned about Iran's announcement that they entered an 'industrial stage' of nuclear fuel production," White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran was "almost completely encircled by the international community because of their actions, and that pressure is only going to increase if they persist."

McCormack would not say what kind of action Washington would seek in addition to financial and other UN sanctions already targeting Iran. "But certainly there is a potential of more (UN) resolutions of similar type down the road," he said.

McCormack however also held out the option of a "negotiated pathway" through the crisis which would involve Western nations providing Iran with aid and other incentives -- including help developing a civilian nuclear power industry -- if Tehran suspends its uranium enrichment program.

Talks between the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, are due to resume soon, though no dates have been announced, McCormack said.

Some experts expressed doubt Monday that the Iranians had actually begun to enrich uranium with their larger array of centrifuges for fear of torpedoing the new round of negotiations.

"The purpose today was to publicly state that they had the centrifuges," said David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector and now president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

"It would be a big surprise though if they did start to enrich," he said, arguing that putting the centrifuges into action would "seriously reduce their chances of having any meaningful negotiations with the Europeans."

"I think they're holding back."

Albright suggested the Iranians wanted to establish some "facts on the ground" ahead of the new talks by showing they had mastered the technology of building centrifuges.

"I think Ahmadinejad wanted to lay out very clearly that they've achieved a certain level and you better accept it," he said.

A possible compromise with the Europeans could involve Iran pursuing its centrifuge development but freezing actual uranium enrichment pending negotiations with the US and its major power allies, he said.

But it was unlikely the US would agree to such a plan, he said.

George Perkovich, another non-proliferation expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Iran's success in furthering its enrichment program could provide an opening for negotiations.

"They think that if they did what the Security Council called for and suspended enrichment, it would be a sign of weakness," he said.

"Now they can claim success and you could turn it into an argument that says: 'Fine, congratulations, you did what you set out to do, now you can take a break'," he said.

 

Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle

Revolutionary Guards say Iranian missile program will continue

Erdogan calls on three major mayors to resign

ICC investigating several war crimes in Mali

Erdogan says may shut Iraqi border at any moment

Tunisian couple jailed for 'public indecency' over car kiss

Next round of Syria talks at end October

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

PSG's Khelaifi to be quizzed in Swiss World Cup probe