Iran claimed on Monday that it is now capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, a development that would defy two U.N. resolutions passed to press the country to suspend its enrichment program.
The announcement was greeted with skepticism by Western diplomats and nuclear experts, who said the declaration seemed to have more to do with political showmanship than technical progress. While reporters were invited to the country's main nuclear complex at Natanz, they were not shown any evidence that enrichment of uranium, the step needed to make reactor fuel or weapon-grade fuel, was under way.
In a speech on Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that if the West did not end its pressure against Iran to halt the production of uranium, Iran would review its policy of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear monitoring entity.
It was unclear whether that was a threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as North Korea did four years ago, but Ahmadinejad said that the West "should know that the Iranian nation will defend its rights and that this path is irreversible."
"With great pride, I announce as of today our dear country is among the countries of the world that produces nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," Ahmadinejad told government officials, diplomats, and foreign and local journalists at the Natanz site. "This nuclear fuel is definitely for the development of Iran and expansion of peace in the world."
The government had decreed April 9 national nuclear technology day. Monday was the first anniversary of Ahmadinejad's announcement that Iran had produced enriched uranium at a pilot plant.
The spokesman for the National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, told reporters traveling with President Bush that the administration was "very concerned" about Iran's declaration, adding, "Iran's decision to limit even further its cooperation with the IAEA is unacceptable." But the administration has carefully avoided making specific threats about how it might respond, other than to press for tightening sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.
The Security Council on March 24 unanimously passed a resolution to expand sanctions on Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear program. The resolution barred all arms exports and froze some of the financial assets of 28 Iranians linked to the country's military and nuclear programs.
The United States and some European governments have accused Iran of having a clandestine weapons program, but Iran contends that its program is peaceful, for energy purposes, and that it wants to produce fuel for its reactors.
Talks between Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, resumed last week after Iran released 15 British sailors and marines who, Iranian officials contended, had strayed into Iranian waters. Solana negotiates on behalf of the permanent members of the Security Council — Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States — plus Germany.