Ahmadinejad orders uranium enrichment

TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered Iran’s atomic chief today to enrich uranium to 20 per cent,

in a fresh challenge to

world powers days after appearing to accept a UN-drafted nuclear fuel deal.

Ahmadinejad blamed the world powers for the stalemate over the fuel deal, but left the door open for possible negotiation over the proposal.

He also insisted that world powers “unconditionally” accept exchanging Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) for high purity 20 per cent enriched uranium to be used as nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor which makes medical isotopes.

“I had said let us give them (world powers) two to three months and if they don’t agree, we would start ourselves,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech at an exhibition on laser technology which was broadcast live on state television.

“Now Dr (Ali Akbar) Salehi, start to make the 20 per cent with the centrifuges,” the hardliner told the atomic chief, who was sitting in the audience.

He also said Iran now had laser technology which can

enrich uranium to any level

but Tehran would resort to

using centrifuges — the device which rotates at supersonic speed — for processing high purity uranium.

Ahmadinejad’s latest statement comes after he indicated in an interview on state television on Tuesday that Iran

was ready to send its LEU abroad for conversion into 20 per cent nuclear fuel. ILNA news agency reported that foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that enriching uranium to 20 per cent was Iran’s “right and not in contradiction to the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty)” to which Tehran is a signatory.

Defending the plan, Mehmanparast said Iran will need “vast” amount of

nuclear fuel in future, which will be partly met by in-house production and partly from imports if those “who make it cooperate.” Iran and world powers are locked in a stalemate over the UN-drafted deal, which envisages the Islamic republic’s 3.5 per cent LEU being sent to Russia and France for enrichment to 20 per cent and then returned as fuel for the Tehran reactor.