Iran Claims Nuclear Project Breakthrough
Philip Sherwell, Telegraph:
Iran is developing an advanced centrifuge that would allow it to accelerate its controversial uranium enrichment programme, a senior official told state television yesterday. READ MORE
Mohammad Saidi, the vice-president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, made the claim a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had ignored a United Nations ultimatum to end enrichment work.
A more sophisticated breed of centrifuge would allow scientists to speed up purification of uranium towards the 90 per cent level required for bomb-making. They recently achieved an initial enrichment level of 3.6 per cent - the purity required to generate electricity. "We have told the agency [IAEA] that we are studying and conducting research on different types of machines," Mr Saidi said. "We cannot limit ourselves when we have an enrichment programme."
His comments were supported by a television interview with Gholamreza Aghazadeh, Iran's nuclear chief. "As for more advanced machines - we indeed have plans to develop such machines," he said. "Having the advanced type of centrifuges and the new technology enables one to multiply production."
Britain will this week introduce a draft resolution at the UN Security Council for a mandatory order to Iran to halt enrichment after it ignored Friday's deadline to cease the work voluntarily. But diplomatic deadlock looms as Russia and China say that they will veto any moves to impose sanctions or enforce action against Iran.
Teheran snubbed requests by the IAEA for an explanation of recent claims by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Iran's centrifuge operations. The hard-line leader revealed that Iran was conducting research on the P2 centrifuge, based on technology acquired from the secret network of A Q Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist - even though Teheran had long insisted that it had abandoned such work.
In referring to even more sophisticated centrifuges, Mr Saidi may have been alluding to the P, which Pakistan is known to have developed.
The Sunday Telegraph was last week supplied by the main exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), with a detailed breakdown of locations, scientists and front companies involved in building the P2.
The work is focused on two sites - at Ab-e Ali, in northern Teheran, and in secret underground facilities at the Natanz enrichment plant. Testing on P2 prototypes is being conducted at Ab-e Ali, in two huge workshops, under the guidance of Chinese and North Korean nuclear experts, according to the NCRI, which revealed the existence of Iran's clandestine nuclear programme in 2002.
The successful construction of P2 centrifuges would be a giant leap for the regime's nuclear ambitions as they would quadruple the enrichment speed of the present P1 machines.
A country that masters enrichment will have the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. Teheran says its programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, but the West is convinced that it is secretly trying to build an atomic bomb.
After disclosing details of Iran's P2 programme, Maryam Rajavi, the NCRI leader, told The Sunday Telegraph: "There is no doubt that the clerical regime is only interested in deceiving the world community and the IAEA, in order to buy time and obtain nuclear weapons. There is no room for appeasement toward this regime."
Mr Ahmadinejad insisted yesterday that Teheran would "never" renounce its nuclear programme. "Iran's decision to master nuclear technology and the production of nuclear fuel is irreversible."
Other officials said that Iran would allow the resumption of full IAEA inspections if its case was removed from the attention of the UN Security Council, but the offer was viewed as meaningless by Western officials.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, urged his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, to suspend uranium enrichment and co-operate fully with the IAEA. But Russia remains opposed to any punitive UN action.