Wednesday, February 15, 2012
TEHRAN — In a new show of defiance against tightened sanctions, Iran on Wednesday threatened to cut oil exports to several European Union countries and unveiled advances in its nuclear fuel programs.
In a day of fiery speeches, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also lashed out at the West, condemning the recent assassinations of Iranian scientists.
Iran says it has begun loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into its Tehran research reactor. The official IRNA news agency said Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first Iranian-made nuclear fuel rod into the reactor in north Tehran. (Feb. 15)
A string of volatile incidents between the two countries in the past few months has increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of six E.U. states and warned at least four of them — Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece — that they must extend their long term oil-purchasing contracts with Iran or face a cutoff, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Wednesday.
France and the Netherlands, close U.S. allies in supporting international sanctions against the Islamic Republic, were told that they would no longer receive any oil at all, the agency reported.
Earlier, the official Press TV said Iran would stop exporting oil to all six countries. The announcement helped drive the price of crude to nearly $102 a barrel Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Europe accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s crude exports, with Greece, Italy and Spain among the main buyers, AP said.
Iran’s Oil Ministry subsequently denied the Press TV report. Another Iranian media outlet, Fars News Agency, quoted an Oil Ministry source as saying that the exports to Europe have not been stopped yet but that Iran has given an ultimatum to those countries to continue their long-term contracts. Iran’s Arabic -language state television channel al-Alam said the ministry would provide more details Thursday.
Iran’s move was aimed at preempting a European Union boycott of Iranian oil, which is scheduled to start in July.
The threatened cutoff was announced after state media reported that Iran has started loading fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor, an aging U.S.-supplied nuclear reactor used to make medical isotopes, and has begun operating a new generation of centrifuges at the country’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. While official media had reported that Ahmadinejad would also formally declare fully operational the underground Fordow uranium-enrichment facility, he did not mention the complex in his speech.
In Washington, the State Department played down the nuclear accomplishments, describing them as “hyped” and “not terribly impressive.” She added that Iran remains “many, many months behind” its own schedule.
“Iran is clearly feeling the pressure of its international and diplomatic isolation,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
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Posted by Steve Douglass at 3:47 PM
Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran flaunted mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle Wednesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clad in a white lab coat, was on hand to load domestically made fuel rods into the core of a Tehran reactor.
Also announced were a new generation of advanced centrifuges and an intent to start production of yellowcake, a material used in enriching uranium.
United Nations sanctions ban Iran from importing yellowcake. Domestic production would further Iranian nuclear self-sufficiency.
In a speech outlining the latest developments, Ahmadinejad said Iran was willing to share its nuclear knowledge with other nations that subscribe to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.
State-run Press TV broadcast live images of the Tehran event, hailed by the Iranians as a major scientific advancement for the Islamic republic.
The first Iranian made nuclear fuel rods, produced by Iranian scientists at the Natanz facility in central Iran, are to be used at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, which Iran says is used primarily for medical purposes.
The Tehran facility creates radio isotopes used for cancer treatment, Press TV reported, adding that 850,000 cancer patients were in dire need.
Ahmadinejad had announced in a speech marking the 33rd anniversary last week of the Iranian revolution that Iran would be unveiling something big.
Wednesday, he lashed out again at Western powers who, he said, attempt to monopolize nuclear technology and prevent other nations from acquiring a key energy source.
Ahmadinejad, surrounded by photos of assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists, said Iran has shown the West up.
Iran's latest activities have spiked tensions with Western powers, which believe Iran's atomic ambitions are focused on building a bomb.
Punitive measures have disrupted Iran's economy and in response to the latest European Union sanctions on the energy and banking sectors, Iran, reported Press TV Wednesday, was cutting oil exports to six European countries: Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal.
But despite Iran's drift from the international community, Tehran's clerical leaders have refused to bow down on its nuclear program that it insists is intended for civilian energy purposes.
Recent Iranian announcements appear aimed at demonstrating to its foes the sophistication it has attained in its home-grown nuclear program.
In January 2008, the semi-official Fars news agency had reported that Iran was able to produce everything it needs for the nuclear fuel cycle, making its nuclear program self-sufficient. But it was not clear that Tehran actually had the technology to turn enriched uranium into fuel rods.
Then, last month, Iran said it had succeeded in building and testing a nuclear fuel rod, or a stack of low-enriched uranium pellets bundled together at the core of a nuclear reactor.
"Because Western countries were unwilling to help us, we began enriching uranium to 20% to make nuclear fuel rods," Ali Bagheri, deputy chief of Iran's national security council, told the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti on Tuesday. Iranian news agencies quoted the Russian news agency report.
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A November report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog found "credible" information that Tehran has carried out work toward nuclear weapons -- including tests of possible bomb components.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 7:11 AM