Iran's scientists ordered to enrich uranium stocks
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran took his country closer to confrontation with the West yesterday, ordering scientists to enrich Iran's stockpiles of uranium to the higher level needed for nuclear power.
Mr Ahmadinejad's order was the culmination of a series of confusing statements by the regime in the past week. If it is carried out, it will scupper what was hoped to be a deal to transfer most of Iran's uranium abroad for further processing.
Many in the West want uranium processing to take place outside the country so that fears over a weapons programme are allayed and Iran's nuclear plans are better monitored. European nations and America were already leading calls for more sanctions to be applied to Iran in the absence of a deal.
Mr Ahmadinejad made his announcement with characteristic melodrama. In a speech on state television, he accused the West of "playing games" over the proposed deal. He then turned towards Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, and said: "I now ask Dr Salehi to start work on the production of 20pc fuel using centrifuges."
Mr Ahmadinejad's statements may be designed to rally support at home as much as to spread confusion abroad. The wave of protest against his re-election last June has subsided but is heading for a new peak this week -- the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
Opposition activists are said to be organising an infiltration of government rallies planned for Thursday.
Under the deal, put forward in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran (IAEA) would transfer three-quarters of its uranium, currently enriched to 3.5pc , to Russia for processing to 20pc. It would be handed back as fuel rods that could be used only in a research reactor in Tehran.
Once enriched to 20pc, uranium needs to be processed to 90pc for weapons purposes, but analysts believe Iran has or is close to having the means to achieve that enhancement.
The total sum involved in the deal is significant as it would reduce the quantities still in Iran to below the level needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iran's negotiating partners have thus rejected the idea of handing over stockpiles bit by bit.
Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad appeared to accept the deal's terms, but Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister, on Friday reiterated conditions that are unacceptable to the West, including allowing Iran to determine the quantities involved.
In his speech yesterday, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "We had told them to come and have a swap, although we could produce the 20pc enriched fuel ourselves. We gave them two to three months' time for such a deal. They started a new game."
This apparent decision to cross the line of further enrichment came in spite of meetings, described by Mr Mottaki as "very good", with Yukiya Amano, the new head of the IAEA.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said Mr Ahmadinejad's order would be "a deliberate breach of five United Nations Security Council Resolutions". (© Daily Telegraph, London)