The suspected uranium-enrichment facility of Fordow
The suspected uranium-enrichment facility of Fordow near Qom, 156 km southwest of Tehran, seen in this September 27, 2009 satellite photograph released by DigitalGlobe on September 28, 2009. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Iran on Thursday confirmed for the first time that it has finished installing centrifuges for enriching uranium at its underground nuclear facility in Fordo.

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi, told Iran' Fars news agency on Thursday that "Iran is completing its nuclear activities regardless of the negative Western media speculations and reports." Abbasi spoke to reporters after a cabinet meeting in Tehran.

When asked about the recent media reports on Iran's new centrifuges in Fordo, located near the city of Qom, he said Iran is proceeding with its nuclear activities as scheduled.

"We are doing our job according to our specified timeline and we are accomplishing" our goals, Abbasi said. "Our response to such reports is working harder."

He was referring to a Reuters report a few days ago, which quoted Western diplomats as saying that Tehran would soon finish installing the last of the centrifuges planned for the Fordo facility. But the diplomats noted that for some unknown reason, the new centrifuges had not yet been activated.

The Fordo site is extremely important to the Iranian nuclear program, since the centrifuges are located deep underground, at an estimated depth of 80 meters. This makes it very hard to destroy them with an aerial attack.

A year ago, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Iran would have entered the "zone of immunity" by the end of 2012 meaning it would thereafter be invulnerable to Israeli attack he was basing this claim mostly on the installation of centrifuges at Fordo.

But recently, Barak has offered a rather different evaluation. In an interview published earlier this week in Britain's Daily Telegraph paper, Barak, who is now on an official visit to London, said that Iran's decision to convert 38 percent of its uranium stockpile into fuel for its civilian research reactor "allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months."

This statement implied that because Iran is for the moment not continuing to stockpile uranium enriched to a 20 percent level (which can be enriched to the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear bomb fairly quickly), the timetable for a possible Israeli attack has been postponed. It also offered the first public confirmation by an Israeli official of Haaretz's report from three weeks ago on the diversion of the uranium.

The diversion of this enriched uranium to scientific purposes, which was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency this summer, was a central consideration in the phrasing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the UN General Assembly in September, Barak confirmed. In his speech, Netanyahu took a softer line than he had previously on the deadline for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, saying a decision on the matter would be necessary only in the spring or summer of 2013.