Iran installing new nuclear centrifuges
TEHRAN, April 9, 2008 - Iran on Tuesday said it had started work to install thousands of new centrifuges to enrich uranium at its main nuclear plant, angering world powers who fear Tehran wants to develop an atomic weapon. "Today, the phase for installing 6,000 new centrifuges at the facility inNatanz has started," the state broadcasting website quoted President MahmoudAhmadinejad as saying at the atomic plant. His announcement came as Iran marked its "national day of nucleartechnology" on the second anniversary of its first production of uraniumsufficiently enriched to make atomic fuel. Iran has already installed around 3,000 P1 centrifuges at an undergroundenrichment facility at Natanz, in central Iran, according to the latest reportby the UN nuclear watchdog, and tripling this number would mark a majorexpansion of its nuclear capacities. The West fears Iran could use enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon,and Tehran's refusal to suspend the process has been punished with three setsof UN Security Council sanctions and US pressure on its banking system. World powers responded swiftly and with concern to Ahmadinejad's latestdefiant announcement. Gregory Schulte, the US ambassador to the International Atomic EnergyAgency (IAEA), said "today's announcement reflects the Iranian leadership'scontinuing violation of international obligations and refusal to addressinternational concerns." The British foreign office said that by announcing the installation of newcentrifuges Iran had "chosen to ignore the will of the international community. "This is despite the fact that Iran's enrichment programme has no apparentcivilian purpose, and shows that Iran is making no effort to restoreinternational confidence in its intentions," it said. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the international communitymust consider "reinforced" sanctions if Iran does not respond to concernsabout its nuclear programme. Ahmadinejad also inspected a "new generation" of centrifuges being built atan above-ground research facility at the plant, the official IRNA news agencyreported. These are Iran's version of the more efficient P2 centrifuges -- the IR-2-- which can enrich uranium considerably faster than the standard P1s. Thereports did not say how many of these centrifuges Iran has built. Ahmadinejad said he would announce more "good news" at a major ceremony at1600 GMT at the headquarters of Iranian state broadcasting in Tehran alongsidethe head of Iran's atomic energy organisation Gholam Reza Aghazadeh. State television was repeatedly playing patriotic music while children atschools around the country chanted the familiar mantra of "nuclear energy isour natural right." Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of makingconcessions over calls for it to freeze enrichment, leading to deadlock in thestandoff with the international community. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and solelyaimed at generating energy for a growing population whose supply of fossilfuels will eventually run out. The United States has never ruled out military action to bring Tehran toheel, and Iran's arch enemy Israel has expressed alarm about the nucleardrive, especially after Ahmadinejad predicted the Jewish state is doomed todisappear. Underlining the tensions, Israel's National Infrastructure MinisterBenjamin Ben-Eliezer warned on Monday that Israel would respond to any Iranianattack by destroying the "Iranian nation." The Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday that envoys from world powerswould meet in Shanghai on April 16 to discuss how to end the standoff over theIranian nuclear programme. But Iran is also believed to have experienced difficulties in utilising itsexisting centrifuges to full capacity. Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said it was"natural in this kind of industry that there are ups and downs once in awhile." In a warning to Ahmadinejad's domestic rivals, the semi-official Fars newsagency reported that Iran had handed former nuclear negotiator HosseinMoussavian a two-year suspended jail sentence for "harming national security." Moussavian was a leading nuclear negotiator in the moderate team that madea deal with EU countries to temporarily suspend enrichment during thepresidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami until 2005.