- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran has begun installing 3,000 centrifuges in an expansion of its uranium enrichment program that brings the Islamic nation significantly closer to large-scale production of nuclear fuel, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday.

He also said the international community was yielding to Tehran’s demands to continue its nuclear program.

“Resistance of the Iranian nation in the past year forced them to retreat tens of steps over Iran’s nuclear issue,” the semiofficial Fars agency quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. Fars is considered to be close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

In contrast to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the United States, which demands it halt its nuclear efforts, Iran’s foreign minister yesterday offered to help the United States withdraw its forces from Iraq.

Speaking at the International Institute of Strategic Studies security conference in Bahrain, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, “If the United States changes its attitude, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to help with the withdrawal from Iraq. Fifty percent of the problem of insecurity in Iraq is the presence of foreign troops.”

Mr. Mottaki echoed calls made last week by Iran’s top national security official, Ali Larijani, for Gulf Arab countries to eject American bases in their countries and establish a regional security pact with Iran. He went further and offered deeper cooperation with Gulf Arab states on energy, tourism, business and counternarcotics.

Iran’s offers do not seem to have tempted Gulf neighbors, which apparently are more worried about the dangers of living near Iran’s nuclear facilities, especially because of threats by Washington and Israel to use military force to destroy them. The U.S. military operates from bases in Bahrain and Qatar.

At one point, Mr. Mottaki addressed an international audience that included U.S. Vice Adm. David Nichols, the deputy chief of U.S. Central Command, and said the regional chaos sparked by the Bush administration’s twin wars demonstrated that U.S. military force was no longer a realistic policy option in the Middle East.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said security of the energy-rich region depends on the United States, the European Union and other major oil importers.

Much of the discussion at this security conference centered on the U.S. Iraq Study Group report and its recommendation that Washington seek Iran’s help in steering Iraq away from civil war.

William S. Cohen, defense secretary under President Clinton, urged Iran to push for talks with Washington.

“If you forgo aspirations for nuclear weapons and cut off funding for radical elements and support the Mideast peace process, then yes, you’d be welcomed into the international community. We’d have billions of dollars going into your economy,” Mr. Cohen told the Iranians, among 250 delegates from 22 countries.

“If Iran is simply interested in pursuing a nuclear energy program and not weapons, that’s something the U.S. wouldn’t object to and would support.”

The Bush administration has expressed skepticism of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that it open talks with Iran, insisting that the Islamic republic first stop producing nuclear fuel. Iran has said it would never agree, even under the threat of a military attack or invasion by the United States.

“We have started installing 3,000 centrifuges” at a plant in central Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad told a group of students in Tehran yesterday, according to Fars. He said the installation, at a plant in central Iran, marks the “first step toward industrial production.”

“We will be able to produce our nuclear fuel once we install 60,000 centrifuges,” he said. Scientists say 3,000 centrifuges could produce enough nuclear fuel each year for one atomic bomb.

The United States and its European allies have been seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend enrichment, but Russia and China have opposed tough action advocated by the United States, Britain, Germany and France, and the Security Council appears to have reached a standstill on the issue.

Iran announced for the first time in February that it had enriched uranium using 164 centrifuges, and it confirmed last month that it had stepped up uranium enrichment by injecting gas into a second network of centrifuges.

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