- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Iranian government on Monday stepped up military threats in advance of an anniversary celebration as major powers continued talks on a new round of sanctions.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in Tehran that his country would stun the Western world on Thursday, the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution. Iran’s defense minister announced on Monday that its forces had conducted successful tests on new armed unmanned aircraft and advanced air defenses.

“The Iranian nation, with its unity and God’s grace, will punch the arrogance [Western powers] on the 22nd of Bahman [Feb. 11] in a way that will leave them stunned,” Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

The anniversary is expected to produce a new round of anti-government demonstrations as Iranian opposition groups continue to protest the June 12 presidential election that resulted in acts of civil disobedience. Former prime minister and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has called for anti-government demonstrations timed to coincide with the nationwide commemoration of the revolution on Thursday.

Also on Monday, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, notified the agency in a letter that Tehran will begin the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent levels for use in medical equipment, and that it would add 10 nuclear sites in the coming year, raising new fears about its covert nuclear program.

According to the IAEA report from November, Iran possesses 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium that has been enriched to 3.5 percent. An atomic bomb requires uranium to be enriched to 90 percent.

Ahmad Vahidi, the Iranian defense minister who is also wanted by Interpol for his role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina, announced that Iran had successfully tested a drone attack craft that cannot be detected by sensors.

On Monday, senior officials from the United States, France and Russia suggested that tougher sanctions against Iran are forthcoming.

“The only thing we can do, alas, is apply sanctions given that negotiations are impossible,” Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said Monday in Paris.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, also in Paris, suggested that Iran would face new sanctions.

Last week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress that the United States did not know whether Iran’s leader had ordered the construction of a nuclear weapon to proceed.

A U.S. intelligence official urged caution on reports of Iran’s new weapons development. The official said Monday, “While the Iranians are up to more than their share of mischief, they’re good storytellers, too, especially when it comes to talk of their military and nuclear capabilities.”

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “They’ve certainly been known to exaggerate for effect, and that appears to apply to their claims of massive production plans in the atomic field and supposedly undetectable attack drones, too.”

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran’s technical achievement does not always match its boasts. However, he said the announcement of Iran’s plans to enrich uranium to nearly 20 percent was provocative.

“From a technical point of view, it may not mean much depending on how much they enrich,” he said.

But he added that it was a provocative political gesture.

“From a political point of view, you can’t know how much they will enrich and it calls for increased sanctions and application of more measures to contain and isolate Iran,” he said.

Michael Adler, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said, “Iran’s increasing uranium enrichment to just under 20 percent would be a significant expansion of its nuclear work, since it would bring it much closer to being able to make weapons-grade uranium.”

“Iran says it is doing this for the most peaceful of purposes, to make isotopes for medical diagnosis, but it will only feed U.S. concerns that Tehran seeks nuclear weapons,” Mr. Adler said.

“The frustration for Washington is that it is hard to see how the current U.S. push for new sanctions will slow Iran down at this point, unless [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is just blustering or trying to make a deal.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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