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The Threat of Iran's Nukes

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Iran Accelerates Race Toward Nuclear Goal with 6,000 New Advanced Centrifuges

April 21st 2008

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Joseph Grieboski

Iran has begun installing 6,000 advanced centrifuges in its main uranium enrichment plant, greatly accelerating activity that could give it the means to make atomic weapons in the future.

While other Iranian officials were disclaiming the reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed that Iran is installing the 6,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Natanz uranium-enrichment facility. Iran has already installed 3,000 of an older version of the centrifuges, fast-spinning machines that separate uranium-235 isotopes for nuclear fuel, at the Natanz site. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in February that Iran was testing a newer version of the machines, and these 6,000 centrifuges appear to be the devices in question. Ahmadinejad’s latest pronouncement sparked an angry international reaction last week with the announcement that Iran was working to install 6,000 more centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned the claim could not be immediately substantiated, and diplomats close to the IAEA said Iran has exaggerated its progress and experienced problems operating the 3,000 centrifuges already in place. One diplomat said Ahmadinejad's claims of a more advanced centrifuge appeared to allude to a type known as the IR-2, which the agency and Iran said months ago that Iran had begun testing. The IR-2 is believed to be two-to-three times faster than the centrifuges currently in use, and his claim that the new machine was five times as quick added to the diplomats' skepticism.

While Iran says it wants to produce nuclear fuel only for electricity so it can export more oil, it has been the object of three sets of United Nations sanctions for hiding its nuclear development work until 2003, “failing to prove to inspectors since then that it is wholly peaceful, and refusing to suspend the disputed program.”

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, told Reuters he was unaware of new progress in the Natanz enrichment bunker, which is ringed by anti-aircraft guns against a feared U.S. bombing.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s official news agency, announced on April 13, 2008, that a trip planned for the next day by Gholam Reza Aghazadeh – head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation – for talks with the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has been “postponed.” IRNA did not give a reason for the postponement of the talks.

"The trip has been postponed to an appropriate time that will be agreed on," IRNA quoted the public relations service of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation as saying. "We can confirm that the talks have been postponed," an IAEA official said. No further details were available.

Meanwhile, some Chinese diplomats are claiming China has supplied the United Nations with intelligence on Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear technology. The London Telegraph reported that Beijing was believed to have decided to help after seized Iranian documents included blueprints for turning uranium metal into warheads and the testing of high explosives used to set off radioactive material. And AP quoted two senior Chinese diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that China has provided the IAEA with classified intelligence to use in its probe into Iran's nuclear program. But Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu remarked, “These reports are totally groundless and out of ulterior motives.”

However, Jiang was clear: “China's position on the Iranian nuclear issue is consistent. We always uphold peaceful resolution of the issue through diplomatic negotiations. Given current circumstances, China believes that relevant parties should exert creativity and flexibility, so as to achieve a comprehensive and long-term resolution of the issue. We will continue to make constructive efforts towards that goal.”

China has repeatedly opposed the imposition of further sanctions on Iran, in the United Nation Security Council, and has constantly called for a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear standoff with West.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini stated that “The close and growing relations between Iran and its neighbors point to the fact that ongoing stability in the region has all components of peace and others’ intervention cannot have a mere effect on it. The interest of the neighboring states, especially Turkey, in having security cooperation with Iran and launching joint campaign against regional terrorism is the best testimony to the issue.”

Last month, the UN Security Council approved a third round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. It wants Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, will meet on Wednesday to discuss the Iran issue. Iran says that it will discuss its nuclear program only with the UN watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency. It insists there is no basis for involvement by the UN Security Council, which has already imposed three sets of sanctions over Iran's failure to heed repeated ultimatums to suspend uranium enrichment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini urged the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany to avoid following wrong strategies on Iran’s nuclear program. “These countries need to know that Iranians will not ignore their certain rights for using civilian nuclear technology,” he said.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki also said Iran plans to offer a package of solutions on international problems to the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the so-called 5+1 group) which are scheduled to meet on April 16 in Shanghai to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

“In view of serious problems and crises the international community is facing, the Islamic Republic is trying to prepare a package to offer to different groups and sides,” Mottaki told reporters in a news conference with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo. “This package is being drawn up based on a new approach and I think it will be useful for different sides including the 5+1 group,” Mottaki declared.

The Minister referred to the failure of the US policies in Iraq, criticizing Washington for blaming others to cover up its failures in the war-torn country.  Mottaki stressed Iran's resolve to help Iraqi government to secure their country across and within the borders.

Mottaki, meanwhile, said he does not intend to meet with the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the upcoming conference of Iraq's neighbors in Kuwait.

In related news, Iran urged the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israel and demand that it stop threatening to use military force against the Islamic republic, according to a letter by Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazee. The letter referred to comments on April 7 by Israel's Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who warned Tehran that any attack on the Jewish state would result in the "destruction of the Iranian nation." Israel's U.N. Mission said it would have no comment on Khazee's letter.

The Iranian ambassador told the Security Council that Israel "has continued with its insolent, outrageous and unprovoked threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran" and in violation of the U.N. Charter. "The inaction of the Security Council in this regard, has emboldened the said regime to pursue this dangerous course," Khazee said. He said the Security Council should condemn the statements and call on Israel to "cease and desist" from threatening to use force.

Khazee's letter made no mention of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

In a meeting with Iran’s ambassadors and heads of missions abroad, changing political, social and economic situations in the country is on the top of Iran's agenda Mottaki said on Sunday. According to reports from IRNA, Iran’s Foreign Ministry is to make new efforts "to confront the US old-fashioned, arrogant and selfish policies" by forming coalition at the regional and international levels. Stressing that Iran was trying to promote “ethics, righteousness, peace and friendship worldwide,” Mottaki reiterated that Tehran is “no threat to any country in the region or other parts of the world.”

He criticized Washington's foreign policies saying, "The world is fed up with US's imbalanced policies." Mottaki stressed that Iran was, in fact, “heading to become a model state for others as a humble and principalist country.”

Joe Grieboski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. He heads up the Cutting Edge International Desk.

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