Iran Claims To Install New, Faster Centrifuges

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

TEHRAN, April 8 -- Iran is installing a new generation of nuclear centrifuges capable of enriching uranium five times more rapidly than the country's existing technology, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Tuesday.

He said 6,000 of the machines would be put into production "after two to three more months of testing," and vowed in a speech laden with bombast that "the nuclear victory of Iran is the start of the ever-increasing destruction of the imperialistic state."

Iran currently has 3,000 older centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium to a level that provides fuel for nuclear energy, Iranian leaders say. A February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency mentions the existence of new centrifuges but not in such large numbers.

The Bush administration said that it could not substantiate Ahmadinejad's claims but that the basics of Iran's capabilities have not changed.

"There are always multiple claims coming out of Iran about progress on this or progress on that. I don't think that the underlining situation has changed, which is that Iran faces three separate Security Council resolutions," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Tuesday.

The United States and some other Western countries suspect that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, but a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released in November concluded that Iran stopped working on an atomic bomb in 2003.

Since 2006, the U.N. Security Council has authorized three sets of sanctions against Iran, demanding a stop to all enrichment activities.

Rice urged Iranian officials to reconsider a long-standing offer put forward by the world's major powers under which the country would stop enriching uranium in exchange for major economic and diplomatic incentives, including talks with the United States and the European Union. Iran restarted its enrichment efforts in 2005 after a two-year voluntary suspension.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, told Ekho Moskvy radio on Tuesday that "new positive proposals" should be put to Iran, without specifying what they might be.

The February report by the IAEA largely cleared Iran of suspicions raised earlier by the agency about the nature of the country's nuclear ambitions, but questions based on U.S. intelligence provided recently to the U.N. agency remained unresolved.

During a televised speech Tuesday evening, the Iranian president marked the country's "national nuclear day" and told an auditorium in Tehran filled with Iranian dignitaries and foreign ambassadors that "all political and economical movements in the world are connected with Iran's nuclear program, which belongs to all humanity."

After briefly explaining the advantages of the newer, faster and simpler centrifuges, he focused on the "coming destruction of the imperialistic state," meaning the West.

Speaking from a platform decorated with flowers, he described a world governed by "the victors of the Second World War," who use international institutions as tools to oppress and extort.

"The great, God-believing nation of Iran does not allow its future to be tied to the benefits of big countries. We do not play by the plan of the great powers," the president said. Powerful nations believe that they have monopolized the nuclear energy and can trample upon the rights of other states, he continued.

He also questioned the circumstances of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, asserting that the names of the victims "were never given out." The attacks were a pretext, Ahmadinejad said, "to send the largest armada to our region to attack the poor people of Afghanistan and the pure Iraqis."

"Lies have become the basis of speeches, and looting [has become] state policy," he said. "We don't want to control other nations but long for peace and justice in the world."

Staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company