- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

Just days after strong rumors of a possible pre-emptive U.S. and/or Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities circulated like wildfire around the Washington Beltway, Iran announced it has taken its nuclear program forward.

“Uranium enrichment has been achieved,” boasted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday to a jubilant crowd gathered in Mashhad, during a speech televised for the world to see. This latest step in Iran’s nuclear program brings the Islamic Republic that much closer to acquiring nuclear weapons.

“I think this is significant; the world must take this very seriously,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting and a former Washington spokesman for Iran’s parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told United Press International.

“This confirms what I have been warning,” said Mr. Jafarzadeh. “Ahmadinejad’s task was to give the regime its first nuclear bomb. And he is going ahead,” said the Iranian dissident.

“This also confirms that by April 28 — the day Iran has to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency — he (Mr. Ahmadinejad) has no intentions to comply.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech can also be perceived as a slap across the face to the world community — particularly to the United States, the European Union and Russia, whose diplomats have tried to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.

“Nothing will stop Ahmadinejad and the regime from getting the bomb,” said Mr. Jafarzadeh. The only thing that can stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program, says Mr. Jafarzadeh, is for the international community to strike at the Achilles’ heel of the regime. And that is to empower the opposition. “The opposition can help. Empower the opposition before Ahmadinejad gets the bomb,” pleaded Mr. Jafarzadeh.

Iran achieved uranium enrichment for the first time by using its 164 centrifuges from its Natanz facility, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA, who quoted the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh.

Mr. Aqazadeh said they produced uranium “enriched to 31/2 percent.” Shortly after Iran’s announcement, Israel called for “a broad and determined international coalition” to stop Tehran’s nuclear project, yet remained cautious.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz did not comment, but the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Mark Regev said, “Iran’s latest announcement serves as a further example of the real danger in delaying concrete diplomatic measures in the face of continued Iranian refusal to comply with international demands to stop its nuclear activities. Israel believes the Iranian nuclear program should be confronted by a broad and determined international coalition.”

Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled, the former head of Israel’s Northern Command, said Israel must prepare to face Iran alone. “Israel does not have the luxury of waiting endlessly.”

About an hour before the Iranian president was to announce the event, he was pre-empted by Iran’s former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who divulged the information in an interview to the Kuwaiti news agency, KUNA. “Iran has put into operation the first unit of 164 centrifuges, has injected [uranium] gas and has reached industrial production,” KUNA quoted Mr. Rafsanjani as saying.

“We should expand the work of these machines to achieve a full industrial line. We need dozens of these [centrifuge] units to achieve a uranium enrichment facility,” said Mr. Rafsanjani. To obtain fuel for a nuclear reactor, uranium has to be enriched at a low level. But when enriched at a higher level, it produces weapons-grade material.

For now, it is believed Iran has only one set of 164 centrifuges. It would need thousands of operating centrifuges to produce enough uranium to allow it to generate either nuclear energy or nuclear weapons.

“Iran has accelerated the nuclear clock, now the United States should accelerate the diplomatic clock,” Raymond Tanter, a senior Reagan administration National Security Council member and a principal with the Iran Policy Committee, told UPI.

“The fact that Rafsanjani made the original announcement shows that there is no difference between one and the other,” Mr. Tanter told UPI. But others saw this as a sign of discord within Iran’s top echelon.

“We need to go back to the United Nations,” said Mr. Tanter. Mr. Jafarzadeh disagrees. “It’s another clear indication that diplomacy has long failed,” he said.

The fact rumors of an imminent attack on the Islamic republic’s nuclear facilities coincided with Iran’s announcement that it has moved its nuclear process ahead may not be all that coincidental.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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