- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

The White House on Thursday dismissed Iran’s boasts of a nuclear breakthrough, as pro- and anti-regime demonstrators massed on the streets of Tehran during the 31st anniversary of Iran’s revolution.

Responding to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement that Iranian scientists had succeeded in enriching uranium to the 20 percent level needed for medical isotopes, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he did not believe it.

“He says many things, and many of them turn out to be untrue,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching.”

On Monday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini stated that Iran would deliver a “punch” to the West. Earlier this week, Iran’s defense minister said that the Iranian military had successfully tested a new armed, unmanned aerial vehicle and had develop new air defenses.

It is not clear if the announcement of boosting enriched-uranium capabilities was what was referred to earlier by the ayatollah.

At a government rally in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, “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.”

Uranium enriched to 90 percent is needed for producing the fuel for a nuclear weapon. Iran has been making low-enriched uranium at 3.5 percent since 2006 at a facility in Natanz that is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to the IAEA report from November, Iran possesses 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium.

Low-enriched uranium can be further enriched through Iran’s thousands of centrifuges, at Natanz and at a recently disclosed site at Qom. Iran has denied it is seeking nuclear weapons; however, U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that Iran’s nuclear program could be used for weapons if a decision is made to do so.

Iran’s president made his remarks Thursday at a demonstration in central Tehran to commemorate the 1979 Islamic revolution. Thursday was billed as a clash between the current Iranian regime and the opposition green movement that has, since June 12 elections, said that government was illegitimate.

Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed victory in the June presidential elections, spawning a new opposition movement around his main challengers in the election, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.

Limited news and Internet reports from Tehran suggest the pro-regime demonstrators outnumbered opposition protesters in the street. The regime also appears to have avoided killing protestors like the slaying last summer of a young Iranian girl who became a martyr and symbol for the movement.

That opposition movement has defied threats from the regime as well as a violent crackdowns culminating in the killing of protesters, their disappearances and public trials and executions. Earlier this month, two such oppositionists were tried and executed in anticipation of Thursday’s rallies.

Despite that pressure, Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi urged their followers through their Web sites and in the media to turn up for peaceful protests against the government Thursday.

The Iranian government in turn bused in its supporters to Tehran and nearly shut down all Internet and cell-phone service. The opposition has used Facebook, YouTube and other Internet media to share pictures and videos of demonstrations with the rest of the world.

In a show of solidarity this week, the United States and European Union leaders issued a warning to Iran’s regime to refrain from using violence against peaceful protests.

Ali Alfoneh, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said, “I think the regime has won a tactical victory by suppressing the opposition in a fairly nonviolent way.”

He added, “The oppression has been nonlethal. Not a single person has lost their life during the demonstrations, which is a success for the regime. They have deterred the opposition, which did not turn out in mass numbers, and the regime succeeded in intimidating the public through executions last week.”

Karim Sadjadpour, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions.

“We don’t have the full picture yet. Internet access has been shut down for many people; information is still trickling out,” he said. “Very few cell-phone videos have emerged. compared to previous protests.”

Mr. Sadjadpour said it would also be a mistake to judge the efficacy of the opposition movement based on its turnout Thursday. “I always thought it was a mistake to build up too many expectations about this one day. Most people recognize that the opposition is not running a sprint; it is running a marathon.”

He added that senior religious leaders, leading intellectuals, film actors and sports stars have all said the current government is not legitimate.

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