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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Iran says nuke program is near complete

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran would soon celebrate completion of its nuclear fuel program and claimed the international community was ready to accept it as a nuclear state.

Iran has been locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program. The United States and its European allies have been seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

"Initially, they (the U.S. and its allies) were very angry. The reason was clear: They basically wanted to monopolize nuclear power in order to rule the world and impose their will on nations," Ahmadinejad told a news conference.

"Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing the whole nuclear fuel cycle," he said. He did not elaborate.

President Bush said Monday there was no change in his position that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment before there can be any dialogue with Tehran.

"Our focus of this administration is to convince the Iranians to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. That focus is based on our strong desire for there to be peace in the Middle East. And an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a destabilizing influence," Bush said Monday.

The Iranian leader said he hoped "to hold the big celebration of Iran's full nuclearization in the current year." Iran's current calendar year ends on March 20.

Though Ahmadinejad did not specify, he appeared to indicate that Iran was on the verge of proficiency in the whole cycle of nuclear fuel — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it and producing nuclear fuel.

Russia, which is backed by China, opposes tough action advocated by the U.S., Britain and France, and its amendments to a Western draft resolution would reduce sanctions and delete language that would cut off Iran's access to foreign missile technology.

The U.S. and some of its allies allege that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and are suspicious of its intentions after Tehran concealed parts of its nuclear development from U.N. inspectors for many years.

Iran claims its program is peaceful and for generating electricity.

Uranium enrichment at low levels can be used to produce fuel to generate electricity but at higher levels can be use to make atomic bombs.

Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel. Officials have said they plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear energy in the next two decades.

Since revelations more than three years ago of a covert uranium enrichment program, Iran has moved to develop its capabilities, activating two small experimental enrichment plants and enriching small amounts of uranium to nuclear fuel level. Although that is far short of the weapons grade uranium that could be used for nuclear warheads, international concerns about Tehran's ultimate intentions led the Security Council to set an Aug. 31 deadline for an enrichment moratorium — which Tehran has ignored. Officials have said they plan to have 3,000 centrifuges operating by next year — enough to make enough material for several nuclear weapons a year.

Suspicions also are focused on Tehran's construction of a heavy water reactor that — when completed in the next decade — will produce plutonium waste, another pathway to nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency declined comment on the Iranian president's remarks.

The Bush administration, frustrated by U.N. Security Council inaction on sanctions against Iran, is pressing a new agenda — trying to deny Tehran U.N. aid for a plutonium-producing reactor that could be used to make nuclear warheads.

Diplomats from nations on the IAEA board say the U.S. is lobbying for denial of Iran's request for help on its Arak research reactor, where Iran says it wants to produce radio isotopes for diagnosing and treating cancer.

Seven diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information, told The Associated Press separately Tuesday that they believed that the 35 member nations of the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog would deny Iran's request when the IAEA meets next week.

But even a total denial of technical aid for Arak, while symbolically important, is expected to do little to slow the eventual completion of the reactor, let alone Iran's nuclear program. When finished — probably early in the next decade — Arak could produce enough plutonium for about two bombs a year.

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