Even as it called attention to international skepticism regarding an announcement made Monday in Natanz about an expansion of Iran's uranium enrichment program, the Associated Press continued to misstate what had actually been said by Iranian authorities.[1]  --  AP's Vladimir Isachenkov wrote that "Iran said Monday it has begun operating 3,000 centrifuges," but in fact Iranian authorities specifically did not say that.  --  For the second day running, Reuters demonstrated greater prudence, saying that "Iranian officials said on Monday Iran had started injecting gas into a batch of 3,000 atomic centrifuges being installed at Natanz," but also that "[t]hey gave no figures for the number of machines set up and running, saying U.N. inspectors would confirm numbers."[2]  --  Complicating matters further was the declaration by Reza Aqazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), who said Tuesday:  "We have plans to install 50,000 centrifuges."[3]  --  "Asked about reasons he had not declared inauguration of 3,000 centrifuges at a ceremony held at Natanz on Monday to mark National Day of Nuclear Technology, he said he was concerned that mentioning numbers would cause ambiguity that Iran has plans for 3,000 centrifuges only.  'This is while we have made investment and planning for 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz.  When we say we have entered industrial scale enrichment, (it means) there is no way back.  Installation of centrifuges will continue steadily to reach a stage where all the 50,000 centrifuges are launched,' he stated.  'I was concerned the foreign media would misuse the issue and pretend that Iran's nuclear program would end up in installation of just 3,000 centrifuges,' the AEOI head said."  --  The New York Times, noting that "[t]he large industrial plant under construction at Natanz is roughly half the size of the Pentagon," and that "[i]nspectors say Iran is constructing 3,000 centrifuges as a first step toward 54,000," was cautious on Tuesday in reporting on the latest announcement:  "Nuclear experts said it was unclear what Mr. Larijani was referring to when he said Monday, 'Yes, we have injected gas.'"[4]  --  The New York Times also alluded to widely reported U.S. military plans for aggression against Iran when it quoted David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington and a former United Nations weapons inspector, saying that "such enrichment 'would escalate the confrontation,' adding, 'It raises all kinds of worst-case scenarios that, if not managed correctly, could escalate up to a military action.'" ...


1.

RUSSIA, FRANCE DOUBT IRAN NUCLEAR CLAIMS
By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press
April 10, 2007

http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/04/10/ap3597904.html

Russia voiced skepticism Tuesday about Iran's announcement of a dramatic expansion of its uranium enrichment program, saying it had yet to receive confirmation of the claim from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. France and Australia also questioned Iran's claim of acquiring an industrial-scale nuclear fuel production capability.

Two U.N. inspectors have arrived in Iran to visit its uranium enrichment plant, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. An official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization confirmed their arrival, and said the visit was "routine." The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Iran said Monday it has begun operating 3,000 centrifuges -- nearly 10 times the previously known number -- in defiance of U.N. demands that it halt its nuclear program or face increased sanctions. The United States, Britain, France and others criticized the announcement.

Russia was unaware, however, of "any recent technological breakthroughs in the Iranian nuclear program that would change the format of its enrichment effort," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement. The Russian government helped built Iran's only nuclear reactor and knows its nuclear program well.

"We haven't got a confirmation yet that they have actually begun uranium enrichment at the new cascades" of centrifuges, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei also questioned the Iranian claim, saying Tuesday "there are announcements, and then there is technological reality."

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer voiced similar doubts about Iran's ability to produce substantial quantities of enriched uranium: "Now I'm not sure if that is true or not."

On Monday, analysts said the claims seemed questionable.

David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector, said "it would be very hard to believe" that Iran has been able to enlarge its centrifuge cascade so dramatically. "It all hinges on whether Iran will be able to get the machines working together" at a constant rate.

Iran is known to have had 328 centrifuges operating at its Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran. For months, it has been saying it plans to launch an expanded program of 3,000, likely to be set up in a large underground area at Natanz to protect them from air strikes.

In the enrichment process, uranium gas is pumped into centrifuges, which spin and purify the gas. Enriched to a low degree, the result is fuel for a reactor, but to a high degree it creates material for a nuclear warhead.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

U.S. experts say 3,000 centrifuges are, in theory, enough to produce a nuclear weapon, perhaps within a year. But they doubted Iran had so many of them operational, a difficult technical feat given the country's patchy success with a much smaller number.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed Monday that his nation had "joined the nuclear club of nations and can produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale" -- comments suggesting Iran was able to produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a nuclear reactor consistently. Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said that Iran would install 50,000 centrifuges.

"We have heard the Iranian president's statement and have adopted a serious attitude to what is going on in relation to the Iranian nuclear program," Lavrov said Tuesday. "But we would like to proceed from facts, not from emotional political gestures."

Kamynin, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, on Tuesday urged Tehran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and voiced concern about the latest Iranian statements. "Iran's threat to walk out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has caused a particular concern," he said.

Kamynin added that his government had asked the IAEA for its assessment of the Iranian claim and was awaiting a response.

Russia has close economic ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr.

Russia, however, has delayed Bushehr's launch that had been earlier set for September and refused to ship uranium fuel for the reactor, citing Iran's payment arrears. Iranian officials denied any payment delays and accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure.

Russia and China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council last month in voting to impose new sanctions -- the second set of penalties in three months against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. The sanctions included the banning of Iranian arms exports and the freezing of assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

Iran rejected the sanctions and announced a partial suspension of cooperation with the IAEA.

--Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini contributed to this report from Tehran, Iran.

2.

RUSSIA QUESTIONS IRAN'S ATOMIC ADVANCE STATEMENT
By Edmund Blair

Reuters
April 10, 2007

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20070410-0713-iran-nuclear.html

TEHRAN -- Russia questioned on Tuesday an announcement by Iran that it was now making nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, a move that if confirmed would take Tehran closer to making an atomic bomb which the West fears is its aim.

Two U.N. inspectors, who could provide the first independent assessment of any Iranian progress, arrived on Tuesday to inspect the Natanz uranium enrichment site where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had expanded its atomic work.

Iran's enrichment activity, until now at an experimental level, has drawn international criticism, including from Russia, its closest big-power ally. The U.N. Security Council has slapped sanctions on Iran for not stopping the work.

'We are not aware of any technological breakthroughs in the Iranian nuclear program recently which would change the nature of work on enrichment being carried out in the country,' Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was seeking clarification from the International Atomic Energy Agency and he had no confirmation enrichment had begun in new machines.

Western analysts say Iran has made grand claims in the past about progress to strengthen its bargaining hand with the West but say Tehran has glossed over technical glitches that mean it is probably several years from being able to make a bomb.

Diplomats who follow Iran's nuclear file also suggested Iran's achievements could be more limited and aimed at showing Tehran would not be deterred from atomic work.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists it wants only to make fuel for atomic power plants it is planning. Its first one is still under construction with Russian help.

An Iranian official said two IAEA inspectors had arrived in Iran for a week-long, routine visit to include Natanz. The result of their trip is likely to emerge only after they leave.

Inspectors from the Vienna-based IAEA routinely visit Natanz and other sites but Tehran halted more intrusive snap checks last year when its case was sent to the U.N. Security Council.

Germany, now president of the European Union, voiced 'great concern' about Iran's announcement in a statement and urged Tehran to abide by international demands.

'SUPERIOR POSITION'

Iranian officials said on Monday Iran had started injecting gas into a batch of 3,000 atomic centrifuges being installed at Natanz. They gave no figures for the number of machines set up and running, saying U.N. inspectors would confirm numbers.

With 3,000 machines, Iran could make enough material for a bomb within a year, if it wanted, Western experts say. But the machines would all need to run smoothly, which experts say has not been the case with the experimental machines Tehran has.

Diplomats said before Monday that Iran had set up a third of the 3,000 machines but had not injected uranium gas feedstock.

'They have their own calendar, they want to prove that they are proceeding and that nothing will stop them. Now whether they have the 3,000 spinning with gas being fed, I have my doubts about that,' said one Vienna-based diplomat.

But Iran said the West should note Iran's progress.

'Our situation before enriching uranium was different. It changed at the stage of pilot (work) and then at the industrial stage, which we have obtained, we have a superior position,' Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

The United States has said it is 'very concerned' about Iran's announcement. Washington says Iran must stop the work to start talks, a precondition Tehran has repeatedly rejected.

'We have passed the stage of setting conditions for talks . . . We believe that other parties should move forward based on new realities,' Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, James Kilner in Moscow, Karin Strohecker in Vienna and Noah Barkin in Berlin)

3.

IRAN PLANS TO INSTALL 50,000 CENTRIFUGES: AQAZADEH

IRNA
April 10, 2007

http://www2.irna.com/en/news/view/line-24/0704102262112737.htm

TEHRAN -- Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Reza Aqazadeh said here Tuesday that Iran's plan was not installation and launch of just 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz nuclear site. "We have plans to install 50,000 centrifuges," he told IRNA in an interview.

Asked about reasons he had not declared inauguration of 3,000 centrifuges at a ceremony held at Natanz on Monday to mark National Day of Nuclear Technology, he said he was concerned that mentioning numbers would cause ambiguity that Iran has plans for 3,000 centrifuges only.

"This is while we have made investment and planning for 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

"When we say we have entered industrial scale enrichment, (it means) there is no way back. Installation of centrifuges will continue steadily to reach a stage where all the 50,000 centrifuges are launched," he stated.

"I was concerned the foreign media would misuse the issue and pretend that Iran's nuclear program would end up in installation of just 3,000 centrifuges," the AEOI head said.

On future plans of his organization, Aqazadeh added, "The AEOI intends to develop, optimize and update nuclear technology in the future." In response to a question on an international tender for construction of two 1,000MW power plants, he said, "We will announce the tender for the two power plants within the coming days." He added that Iran owed its progress on peaceful nuclear energy to the guidelines of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei.

"Sometimes it was very difficult to make a decision but the Supreme Leader adopted wise decisions on such circumstances." On a ceremony held at Natanz nuclear site at the central province of Isfahan on Monday on the occasion of the National Day of Nuclear Technology, it was announced that Iran has entered industrial scale of production of nuclear fuel.

On April 9 last year, Iranian scientists produced uranium enriched to the level of 3.5 percent in its Natanz facility and the country became self-sufficient in production of nuclear fuel thanks to the efforts of its young talented experts.

Following this scientific and technical achievement, the Islamic Republic of Iran along with Brazil was recorded as the 8th country possessing nuclear fuel cycle in the world.

Earlier, only the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council -- Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States -- plus Germany and Japan had monopoly on nuclear fuel cycle.

4.

World

Middle East

IRAN SAYS IT CAN ENRICH URANIUM ON A LARGE SCALE
By Nazila Fathi

New York Times
April 19, 2007
Page A3

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/world/middleeast/10iran.html

NATANZ, Iran -- Iran said Monday that it was now capable of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, a development that would defy two United Nations 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 bomb 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 United Nations nuclear monitoring entity.

It was unclear whether that was a threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as North Korea did four years ago, but Mr. Ahmadinejad said 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," Mr. 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 a national nuclear technology day. Monday was the first anniversary of Mr. 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 I.A.E.A. 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 United Nations Security Council.

The Council unanimously passed a resolution on March 24 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. Mr. Solana negotiates on behalf of the permanent members of the Security Council -- Russia, China, Britain, France, and the United States -- plus Germany.

Iran's sprawling facility in the desert at Natanz has a small pilot plant where for more than a year engineers have periodically shot uranium gas into scores of spinning centrifuges in an experimental effort to master enrichment, a complex kind of purification process. Uranium enriched to low levels can fuel reactors; if enriched to high levels, it can fuel nuclear weapons.

Introducing uranium gas into centrifuges at the pilot plant would be nothing new. Injecting it into the larger facility under construction at the site, the one intended for "industrial production," would be a step forward. Nuclear experts said it was unclear what Mr. Larijani was referring to when he said Monday, "Yes, we have injected gas."

The large industrial plant under construction at Natanz is roughly half the size of the Pentagon. Inspectors say Iran is constructing 3,000 centrifuges as a first step toward 54,000.

A senior European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because diplomatic negotiations were under way, said he doubted that Iran had crossed the line and begun enriching uranium at the larger plant because Iranian and European negotiators were seriously discussing potential ways to resolve Iran's standoff with the Security Council.

"I would be surprised if they fed the centrifuges because it would jeopardize the talks," the diplomat said. "There are proposals out there that are quite serious."

The diplomat, who follows the nuclear agency's work, added that none of its inspectors were currently at Natanz but that they were on their way. He said their assessment would clarify what, if anything, the Iranians had actually achieved.

Frustrated Western experts have said for months that the underlying question is whether the frenetic activity at the desert complex is real, a bluff, or a little of both. The issue, they say, is whether Iran has really mastered the centrifuge basics or is involved in a political show to strengthen its bargaining position in the global standoff.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington and a former United Nations weapons inspector, also said Iran for the moment seemed more interested in scoring diplomatic points than in making technical advances.

"Ahmadinejad is trying to demonstrate facts on the ground and negotiate from a stronger position," he said. "If they enriched today" in the cavernous industrial plant, "it would destroy the ability to go forward on any negotiation."

Mr. Albright said such enrichment "would escalate the confrontation," adding, "It raises all kinds of worst-case scenarios that, if not managed correctly, could escalate up to a military action."

It was unclear how seriously to take Iran's threat to reduce further its cooperation with inspectors. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters, issued a forceful warning last month after the Security Council resolution was passed, saying Iran would strike back against any threats or violence.

"Until today, what we have done has been in accordance with the international regulations," he said in a nationwide address observing the first day of the Persian New Year on March 21. "But if they take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and will do so."

Ayatollah Khamenei said the nuclear program was more important than the nationalization of oil in 1958, a source of great pride for most Iranians.

"If they want to treat us with threats and use force or violence, the Iranian nation will undoubtedly use all its capabilities to strike the invading enemies," he added.

--William J. Broad and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from New York.