Iran 'to unveil nuclear fuel advance'

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The Independent Online

Iran will unveil a new advance in its nuclear programme in the coming months, the head of its Atomic Energy Organisation was quoted as saying today, in comments that showed defiance in the face of new UN sanctions.

"In the next few months Iran will announce a new nuclear achievement in connection to the production of fuel for its Tehran research reactor," Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying in the Resalat daily. He gave no details.

The last major advance Iran announced was in February, when it said it had started refining uranium to 20 per cent purity - saying it wanted to produce fuel for the Tehran reactor, which makes isotopes for treating cancer.

That increased Western concerns as it meant Iran was now refining uranium closer to the level needed for nuclear weapons, adding to the momentum behind a fourth round of sanctions passed by the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says there are reasons to suspect Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons capability. Once 20 percent purity is reached, the next step to the 90 percent needed for a warhead is much less onerous.

Iran is not known to have the technology to convert 20 percent enriched uranium into the special plates needed for the research reactor.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the sanctions as no worse than "pesky flies" and said the resolution was "like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the bin".

His vice-president, Mehrdad Bazrpash, told the official IRNA news agency: "America and its allies should wait for Iran's next move on the Islamic Republic's nuclear issues and they will soon realise that they have made a mistake."

Iran has refused to suspend its sensitive nuclear work, as demanded by the Security Council, and that the programme only represents its legitimate right to power generation.

"Iran's nuclear activities will not face any problems due to the new sanctions resolution," said Salehi.

Iran's parliament will start discussing a bill on Sunday to oblige the government to review its level of cooperation with the IAEA.

"Iran will remain committed to its international commitments and will continue its cooperation with the IAEA," Salehi said.

In comments carried by IRNA, Salehi warned the West "not to drown in the quagmire of Iran's nuclear programme".

The new sanctions target Iranian banks suspected of connections with nuclear or missile programmes; expand an arms embargo; and call for a cargo inspection regime.

One result has been Russia freezing the delivery of S-300 air defence missiles to Iran. The United States and Israel opposed the sale because it could give Iran the means to withstand any future air strikes aimed at knocking out its nuclear sites.