TEHRAN / JERUSALEM
Tehran hails its new enrichment feat amid rising oil prices that stem from Iranian threats to shut off supplies to the EU over sanctions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first Iranian-made nuclear rod into a reactor in Tehran yesterday, a defiant move which will further raise tension and anger the Western world. The country at the same time announced it stopped oil exports to six European states in retaliation toEU sanctions, which was later denied by its Oil Ministry. Later in the day,Iran said it would “revise” its oil sales.
State television reported Iran made advances in its nuclear program, building new uranium enrichment centrifuges and producing its own nuclear reactor fuel plates. It broadcasted live images from the ceremony with Iranian nuclear experts briefing Ahmadinejad on the process.
Iran has developed “fourth generation centrifuges” made of carbon fibers that are “speedier, produce less waste and occupy less space” as they spin at supersonic speeds to purify uranium, state television reported, citing Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.Iran also created its own 20 percent fuel plates for a research reactor in Tehran whose stock of fuel sourced from Argentina in the 1990s is running low, the report said.
Oil prices rise
The television channel also said Iran had made progress in 20 percent uranium enrichment at its Natanz facility, beyond enrichment activities already underway there. “We began enriching uranium to 20 percent in order to make fuel rods because Western countries are not ready to help us,” Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Baqeri said, Agence France-Presse reported.
The West suspects Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it is geared for peaceful purposes only, such as energy production. The development came as Iran announced on Iran’s state-run Press TV it cut oil exports to six European countries – France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands – in response to recent new European Union sanctions. Crude oil prices were up $1 a barrel to $118.35 shortly after the announcement. New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) light sweet crude for delivery in March, gained 73 cents to $101.47 a barrel.
Iran’s Oil Ministry later denied state media reports. “We deny this report […] If such a decision is made, it will be announced by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council,” a spokesman for the ministry told Reuters. After the second announcement, Iran said it would “revise” its oil sales, the website of state broadcaster IRIB reported. “Today the ambassadors of some European countries were called in by the foreign ministry, where it was insisted to them that Iran will revise its oil sale to these countries,” IRIB reported without giving further details.
The EU’s 27 member states have decided to stop importing crude from Iran beginning July 1 over its disputed nuclear program.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is concerned about progress in Iran’s nuclear program but sees no hard evidence of military aims. Amid high tension, Iran has handed a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief over its readiness to resume nuclear talks with major powers. “The letter was handed over to Catherine Ashton’s office on Wednesday [Feb. 15]. It expresses Iran’s readiness to hold new talks over its nuclear program in a constructive way,” Iran’s Arabic language Al Alam television reported.