Iran Claims Nuclear Advances, US Downplays Iranian ‘Hype’

Posted February 15th, 2012 at 6:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Iran has claimed two major advances in its nuclear program – the installation of a new generation of centrifuges to enrich uranium, and the first loading of domestically-produced nuclear fuel into Tehran's research reactor.

The United States downplayed the Iranian announcements as exaggerations meant to take attention away from Iran's growing diplomatic isolation and economic problems caused by international sanctions.

Iranian media said Wednesday authorities have installed a new line of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium more quickly at a facility in the central city of Natanz. Iran says its enrichment activities are aimed at producing fuel for power plants and medical research. But, Israel and Western powers suspect Iran is trying to speed up the enrichment of uranium to the higher purity needed to develop nuclear weapons.

Iranian state television also broadcast what it said were live images of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overseeing the insertion of domestically-produced nuclear fuel rods into an aging Tehran reactor that makes isotopes for cancer treatment. Iran previously ran the 43-year-old reactor on imported fuel rods, but those supplies have been dwindling.

Iran hailed the advances as a step toward mastering the complete nuclear fuel cycle, despite U.N. and Western sanctions aimed at stopping the process. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed the Iranian announcements as “hype.” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran is making “defiant” statements because its leadership and economy are under “enormous pressure” from sanctions.

Israel and its chief ally the United States refuse to rule out military action to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Israel sees an Iranian atomic bomb as a threat to its existence.

Russia's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not an option for Russia,” voicing concern at progress made by Tehran in its nuclear drive. But, the Russian official also said sanctions have had little effect, and called on world powers to hold “serious negotiations” with Iran to resolve the nuclear dispute.

The European Union said Wednesday it received a formal Iranian reply to a letter sent almost four months ago offering Iran a resumption of nuclear talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany – a group known as P5+1. The Iranians said they are ready for “dialogue” and “cooperation.”

EU officials said they were studying the Iranian response carefully and consulting with other members of the group. The parties last met in Istanbul a year ago but made no progress.

In a separate development, Iran's oil ministry said Wednesday Tehran has not stopped exporting crude to EU nations. Earlier, some Iranian state news agencies said Iran was cutting off exports to six EU nations in retaliation for an impending EU boycott of Iranian oil.