The USG Open Source Center translated remarks of Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, regarding Sunday’s announcement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran would seek to enrich uranium to the 19.75% necessary to produce medical isotopes. Salehi represented the announcement as a way for Iran to put pressure on the West to provide the low enriched uranium for its medical reactor on Iran’s terms.
‘ Tehran Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network 2 in Persian at 1920 GMT: . . . “Mr President [Ahmadinejad] made the comment in a subtle way. If you paid attention to his comments, he said: Start the 20-per cent enrichment, but the doors for cooperation are still open and we are still ready for fuel swap. In other words, we – although we will start the 20-per cent enrichment tomorrow – will stop the enrichment as soon as they (West) come to their senses and provide our fuel.” ‘
He also reiterated that Iran had no intention of producing bomb grade enriched uranium. Obviously Iran has the potential capacity. “But whether or not we plan to do, the answer is no,” Salehi said.
In a face to face meeting at the beginning of October in Geneva, the West had suggested that Iran send most of its stock of low enriched uranium to another country for enrichment to the nearly 20% that is needed to run its medical reactor. Iran’s hard liners balked at the agreement, however, presumably because they view even a stock of low enriched uranium as a sort of deterrent to a Western attempt at regime change or a military strike on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities near Isfahan. Uranium enriched to 3.5% as fuel for reactors can theoretically be further enriched to the 95% desirable for making a nuclear warhead. Iran keeps saying they have no intention of carrying out the latter operation, and all the evidence points to their being truthful on this score, at least at present. But the hard liners think it is best to keep the US and its allies guessing about Iranian capabilities and intentions. (The hard line strategy may actually be counter-productive for Iran, just as a similar strategy proved fatal to Saddam Hussein.)
The compromise Iran offered is that they would keep sending abroad a small portion of their low enriched uranium for another country to enrich to 19.75% for the medical reactor, on a rolling basis. Salehi is saying that Ahmadinejad’s announcement was meant primarily to force acceptance of this alternative. At the same time, on Saturday Ahmadinejad seemed to say that he would accept the deal offered by the US in October. US officials were understandably skeptical about this alleged softening of Tehran’s position, and Salehi on Monday seemed to suggest that Iran was making a push for the hard liners’ compromise.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke as though Iran’s announcement that it was going to try to make its own medical isotopes with low enriched uranium was tantamount to a weapons program. Gates said that if Iran did seem to be close to getting a nuclear warhead, it would provoke a nuclear arms race in the region. But it seems obvious that it is Israel’s stockpile of some 200 nuclear weapons that is driving the already-existing nuclear arms race in the region.
The US will probably seek further sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council, this time on its banking sector. But there is a substantial possibility that China may protect Iran by vetoing any such new program of sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iran’s political opposition is calling for big demonstrations on Thursday, the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressed Air Force officers on Monday, recalling the key role this branch of the armed services had played in largely going over to Imam Khomeini and spurning the shah or king.
According to Kayhan writing in Persian, Khamenei said that the enemies of the Islamic Revolution and the instruments of imperialism and Zionism are unable to perceive the reasons for the endurance and spiritual power of the Islamic Revolution. He called for unity on the anniversary of the revolution and dismissed protesters as agents of the US, the UK and “Zionism.” Defeating what he sees as a US-funded and instigated fifth column in his movement is what he meant by dealing the West a ‘stunning blow.’
The regime’s rigidity and conspiratorial mindset prevent reconciliation with the political opposition, which genuinely believes that Ahmadinejad stole the election last summer.
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