Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview published on Friday that he would reject any new incentives offered by world powers in return for suspending uranium enrichment.
"This is a non-negotiable subject," Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Japan's Kyodo News when asked about possible incentives carrying conditions that Iran suspends its enrichment activities.
"Iran is a nuclear country and has no reason to give up the technology. If there are to be any preconditions, we must propose preconditions," he said.
The Security Council last month tightened UN sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt nuclear fuel work as six major powers offered to resume talks with the Islamic republic to end the standoff.
The five permanent UN Security Council powers plus Germany reconfirmed and pledged to expand a 2006 offer of economic and trade incentives to Iran in exchange for a freeze of its uranium enrichment activities.
But Iran last month ruled out further talks with the six.
Ahmadinejad told Kyodo that the suspension of its uranium enrichment programme was an issue related to the past as "we have passed this stage".
He again rejected any new talks with the European Union over Iran's nuclear programme, saying Tehran would negotiate only with the UN atomic agency.
The UN Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to freeze uranium enrichment, which the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons, but which Iran insists is only needed to make atomic fuel for power stations.
Iran has begun installing advanced centrifuges in its key uranium enrichment complex, accelerating activity that could give it the means to make atom bombs in future if it chooses, diplomats said on Thursday.
Iran says it wants to produce nuclear fuel only for electricity so it can export more oil. But has been hit with three sets of United Nations sanctions for hiding the work until 2003, failing to prove to inspectors since then that it is wholly peaceful, and refusing to suspend the disputed programme.
Iran launched 3,000 centrifuges, a basis for industrial scale enrichment, in the underground Natanz production hall last year. But they are a 1970s-vintage design prone to breakdown so Iran began testing an advanced version in Natanz's pilot wing.
After a pause of several months, Iran has now assembled more than 300 centrifuges divided into two cascades (interlinked networks) to expand beyond 3,000, diplomats with access to intelligence told Reuters.
"One of the two cascades is using the advanced model, the other the older one. There are more machines in the advanced cascade than the set of 164 typically used for the (older model)," said one of the diplomats, who asked for anonymity because the details remained confidential.
"Iran may not have had enough of the advanced one ready yet to put into two cascades. But they wanted to show the world they could go beyond the threshold of 3,000 now enriching at Natanz (despite international pressure) to stop."
Analysts believe Iran aims to gradually replace its start-up "P-1" centrifuge with "a new generation" it adapted from a "P-2" design, obtained via black markets from the West and able to enrich uranium 2-3 times faster than its older counterpart.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA told Reuters he was unaware of new progress at the Natanz enrichment complex, which is ringed by anti-aircraft guns against a feared U.S. bombing.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which has inspectors at Natanz, declined comment.
A senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's Iran mission did not dispute the disclosures but said it remained unclear if Iran could get the upgraded brand of centrifuge to work productively.
Centrifuges are technically temperamental tubes that spin at supersonic speed to refine uranium to levels suitable for power plants or bombs, depending on their configuration.
NEW CENTRIFUGES PASS QUALITY TESTS
The first diplomatic source said Iran had completed quality control checks on the newly installed advanced centrifuges and was ready to start feeding uranium gas into them for enrichment, but it was unclear when this process would begin.
"Iran has already done most of the necessary vacuum tests, including leakage checks, to make sure the (latest) centrifuges are in working order and to activate them," he said.
"The two new cascades were installed to comply with a directive from President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad that on April 8, a date Iran has marked as National Nuclear Technology Day, a significant achievement would be displayed."
Ahmadinejad used the same occasion a year ago to proclaim industrial enrichment capacity. But nuclear analysts said then, and still say, Tehran has yet to show it can run centrifuges in large numbers at optimal speed nonstop for long periods -- the key to yielding usable quantities of enriched uranium.
Still, a U.S. intelligence report in December said Iran would gain a latent ability to build atomic warheads between 2010 and 2015 merely by gradually expanding the programme and mastering the technology.
The diplomats who reported Iran's advanced centrifuge assemblies said they were meant to "state a fait accompli" that Tehran has no intention of suspending enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council, but rather of accelerating progress towards industrial production of fissile nuclear material.
The IAEA is also pressing Iran to explain Western intelligence alleging that it conducted secret studies into how to "weaponise" nuclear materials despite its membership of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran says the information is forged.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said it was aiming to set up a meeting with a top Iranian nuclear official in Vienna in mid-April to have him address the intelligence fully.
Saudi Arabia most likely would develop nuclear weapons if Iran acquires them, according to a report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
High-level American diplomats in Riyadh with excellent access to Saudi decision-makers said an Iranian nuclear weapon frightens the Saudis "to their core" and would compel the Saudis to seek nuclear weapons, the report said. The American diplomats were not identified.
Turkey also would come under pressure to follow suit if Iran builds nuclear weapons in the next decade, said the report prepared by a committee staff member after interviewing hundreds of individuals in Washington and the Middle East last July through December.
While Turkey and Iran do not see themselves as adversaries, Turkey believes a power balance between them is the primary reason for a peaceful relationship, the report said.
Egypt most likely would choose not to respond by pursuing its own nuclear weapons program, said the report prepared in late February and obtained Wednesday. The impact on relations with Israel and the United States were cited as the primary reasons.
A U.S. intelligence estimate late last year said Iran worked on nuclear weapons programs until 2003 before abandoning them. However, the intelligence analysts also reported Iran was continuing to enrich uranium, a key weapons component, and possessed the capacity to produce nuclear weapons if it decided to do so.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., the senior Republican on the committee, directed staff member Bradley Bowman to conduct the study.
Among its conclusions, the report said demands for nuclear energy and for matching Iran's nuclear progress virtually guarantees that three or four Middle Eastern countries will generate nuclear power by 2025.
And this, in turn, will reduce the obstacles to acquiring nuclear weapons, the report said.
The spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East could reduce regional security and endanger U.S. interests, the report said.
In the next two or three years, the United States must take steps to restore Arab and Turkish confidence in U.S. security guarantees, the report concluded.
Otherwise, it said, "the future Middle East landscape may include a number of nuclear-armed or nuclear weapons-capable states vying for influence in a notoriously unstable region."
1. US Estimates NK Nuke Disablement Cost of $410 Million
The Korea Times
(for personal use only)
The U.S. administration would need an additional US$50 million for fiscal year 2008 and another $360 million the following year to continue disablement of North Korea's nuclear facilities, a senior Energy Department official said Wednesday.
William Tobey, deputy chief of the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, told a Senate hearing that the estimated figure is abstract because of the uncertainties on how much progress will be made in North Korea's denuclearization.
"If we got a full go-ahead sort of tomorrow to go in and complete the disablement as fast as we could, we would estimate that we would need an additional $50 million in FY (fiscal year) 2008 to carry out these activities," Tobey said at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The large jump to $360 million for FY2009 "has to do with the fact that it would be the plan to remove the spent fuel from North Korea, which bears plutonium," he said.
The U.S. has agreed to bear the early costs of disabling North Korea's key atomic installations under six-nation agreements that envision eventual dismantling of all of the communist state's nuclear weapons and programs.
South and North Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan are members of the six-way talks.
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