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IRAN: Ahmadinejad announces 'nuclear Iran'; experts skeptical

April 9, 2010 | 12:21 pm

Iran centrifuges1

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday announced the creation of significantly more powerful centrifuges for producing nuclear fuel, but avoided certain details that made it difficult to assess whether Tehran could dramatically increase the pace and scope of its uranium enrichment program.

The president’s remarks were made during Iran’s fourth annual National Nuclear Day, which this year coincided with a summit in New York to discuss new sanctions against the Islamic Republic in the face of its refusal to halt its nuclear program. The West believes that Tehran wants to build atomic weapons, but the Iranians say their program is for peaceful purposes.

Ahmadinejad has been speaking of building faster, more reliable centrifuges for years, but without knowing how many of the new centrifuges Iran has or is capable of producing, most experts have been cautious in their assessments. Centrifuges spin at high rates of speed to enrich uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon or to generate electricity.  

Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the new third-generation centrifuge is in the final stage of development and is six times more efficient than the first-generation version. 

“If they can deploy them, it’s a problem because they can deploy a lot less, which means a smaller facility that’s easier to hide,” David Albright, a former inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, told The Times.

"It’s a troubling development if they can build a couple thousand of these machines, but everyone is so cynical with Iran … they want to see evidence," he said.

Albright also cast doubt on claims that 60,000 more centrifuges will be installed at Iran's main plant in Natanz. "They’ve been saying that for years," he said. "They are having trouble getting 4,000 to work."

Such skepticism did not deter Ahmadinejad, who told the assembled crowd that “today, Iran is a nuclear country, whether ill-wishers like it or not.”

Ahmadinejad slammed Obama for demanding other that countries disarm or halt their own nuclear programs while the United States stockpiles thousands of warheads.  “Of course we agree with nuclear disarmament, but this way of disarmament, the one being carried out by the United States, is similar to putting the security of a city in the hands of its robbers and burglars,” he said.

Salehi said that the nuclear plant in Bushehr is expected to be up and running by summer. Iran reportedly has 10 more plants planned for the near future.

In another matter certain to increase tensions with Washington, the Iranian English-language channel Press TV on Thursday ran an interview with Iran's intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, in which he said the three American hikers seized on the border with Kurdistan last summer "had links with intelligence services" but did not provide details of the evidence against them.

– Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours Iran's main nuclear plant in Natanz in 2008. Credit: Office of the president