Iran atomic chief: Tehran to initiate 2 new nuclear sites this year
Ali Akbar Salehi: We have the enrichment abilities, but we won't produce weapons grade uranium.
Iran will start building two new nuclear enrichment sites in the upcoming years, the Islamic Republic's Atomic Energy Organization chief told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
"Hopefully, in the upcoming Iranian year [starting in March], we will be starting construction of one or two sites," Ali Akbar Salehi said.
Iran has one enrichment plant in operation.
The Tehran nuclear chief also said that Iran's newly launched 20 percent nuclear fuel production was going "very well."
Salehi also said Iran had the capacity to enrich uranium up to a level of 100 percent -- above the level experts say is needed for a bomb -- but he said the country had no intention of refining the material to that level.
"There is no limit on enrichment. We can enrich up to 100 percent ... We have this capacity and capability. But we never had the intention and we do not have the intention to do so, unless we need [to]," Salehi said.
Salehi said Iran's production of 20 percent nuclear fuel, which it says started on Tuesday, would be limited to the needs of a Tehran medical reactor of around 1.5 kg per month.
He also said Iran will have "good news" on improved nuclear enrichment centrifuges in coming months, adding the construction of new enrichment sites would start from March.
Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of cheering Iranians on the anniversary of the 1979 foundation of the Islamic republic on Thursday that the country was now a nuclear state, but insisted that Iran had no intention to build nuclear weapons.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Tehran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to build nuclear weapons but Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is just geared towards generating electricity.
"I want to announce with a loud voice here that the first package of 20 percent fuel was produced and provided to the scientists," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the recently begun process of enriching Iran's uranium stockpile to higher levels.
Enriching uranium produces fuel for a nuclear power plants but can also be used to create material for atomic weapons if enriched further to 90 percent or more.
"We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent but we don't enrich (to this level) because we don't need it," the Iranian president said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Iran angers World powers over uranium enrichment
Iran announced Tuesday it was beginning the process of enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. The international community reacted by starting the process to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has said it wants to further enrich the uranium - which is still substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads - as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.
But the West says Tehran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears that Iran wants to enrich the uranium to make nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran's position that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons.
"When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb," he told the crowd. If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it ... our nation has the courage to explicitly say it and build it and not fear you."
MK Tzachi Hangebi, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told U.S. officials in Washington that imposing sanctions on Iran isn't Israel's only option, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.
Hangebi also emphasized that the leaders in both the Israeli coalition and opposition have no difference of opinions regarding the Iranian issue.
Hangebi made the comments during the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee's meetings with White House officials in Washington.
In a telepone conversation on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad told Syria's Bashar al-Assad that Israel should be resisted and finished off if it launched military action in the region, state broadcaster IRIB reported on Thursday.
"If the Zionist regime should repeat its mistakes and initiate a military operation, then it must be resisted with full force to put an end to it once and for all," he told Syria's Bashar al-Assad.