Iran Says It Is Now Running 3,000 Uranium Centrifuges
( AP ) - Iran's president said Sunday that his country is now running 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for its nuclear program, reaching a goal that could spur efforts to impose new U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic.
The announcement appeared at odds with a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog Thursday that put the number closer to 2,000. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that enrichment had slowed and that Iran was cooperating with its nuclear probe, which could fend off calls for a third round of sanctions.
"The West thought the Iranian nation would give in after just a resolution, but now we have taken another step in the nuclear progress and launched more than 3,000 centrifuge machines, installing a new cascade every week," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in remarks posted on the state television Web site.
Iran had announced in April that it was operating 3,000 centrifuges, but the IAEA said at the time that only 328 centrifuges were running at the underground Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
In the latest report, drawn up by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the organization said that close to 2,000 centrifuges were now enriching uranium at Natanz, with another 650 being tested.
The figure of 2,000 represents a jump of several hundred since May, when the IAEA last reported on Iran. Still, the rate of expansion is much slower than a few months ago, when the country was assembling about 200 centrifuges every two weeks.
"The recent report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agrees with Iran's approach and the dispute over Iran's nuclear case has ended," Ahmadinejad said. The IAEA report noted an increased willingness by the Iranians to answer questions after years of stonewalling and was seen as likely to check the push for new sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council has passed two sets of sanctions targeting Iranian individuals and businesses involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs. The resolutions also ordered countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology for those programs.
U.N. officials have suggested that Iran slowed its program and increased its cooperation with the agency's investigators to avert the new sanctions. The report said Iran was continuing to produce negligible amounts of nuclear fuel, far below the level needed for nuclear warheads.
Ahmadinejad's announcement Sunday appeared to mark a shift away from that strategy.
Iran has said that its goal for the Natanz facility, the only site now open to full monitoring by the IAEA, is to run 54,000 centrifuges, enough for dozens of nuclear weapons a year.
Uranium gas, spun in linked centrifuges, can result in either low-enriched fuel suitable for generating power or the weapons-grade material that forms the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
U.S. officials accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop atomic weapons. But Iran insists it wants to master the technology only to meet future power needs and argues that it is entitled to enrich under a nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provision giving all pact members the right to develop programs for peaceful purposes.
Also, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday named Mohammed Ali Jafari as the head of the elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. The United States has said the corps is responsible for terrorist acts as well as violence against U.S. forces in Iraq.