Iran stepped up its nuclear defiance Wednesday by endorsing plans to boost its uranium enrichment and to build four new facilities for atomic medical research — less than a week after the latest U.N. sanctions.
The series of announcements and sharp comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who said the West must come to Iran like a "polite child" in any possible nuclear talks — could encourage calls for more economic pressure against the Islamic Republic.
European Union foreign ministers agreed earlier this week to consider tighter sanctions for Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. U.S. lawmakers also could press for additional embargoes after last week's U.N. Security Council sanctions — which were backed by Iranian allies Russia and China.
Ahmadinejad said he will soon announce new conditions for talks with the West. But first, he wants to punish world powers for imposing sanctions on Tehran and added Iran will not make "one iota of concessions."
"You showed bad temper, reneged on your promise and again resorted to devilish manners," he said of the powers that imposed sanctions. "We set conditions (for talks) so that, God willing, you'll be punished a bit and sit at the negotiating table like a polite child," he told a crowd during a visit to the central Iranian town of Shahr-e-Kord. His speech was broadcast live on state TV.
The West and other nations are increasingly worried Iran will eventually develop the capacity for nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful energy production and research.
Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani said lawmakers back the government's push to enrich uranium at a higher level since earlier this year as a response to "bullying countries."
Iran currently enriches uranium up to 20 percent levels — which is far short the 95 percent plus enriched uranium needed for an atomic weapon, but is a significant advancement from the low-grade uranium at nearly 5 percent level from the early stages of making reactor-ready fuel.
Iran has rebuffed a U.N.-drafted plan to suspend uranium enrichment and swap its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium for fuel rods. An alternative plan backed by Turkey and Brazil includes the uranium-for-rods exchange, but does not mandate a halt to Iran's ability to make its own nuclear fuel.
Iran has justified its decision to go to higher enrichment by saying its needed to create fuel for a research reactor producing medical isotopes.
Iran's nuclear chief said Wednesday there are plans to build four new medical research reactors, including one "more powerful" than the main facility: an aging 5-megawat U.S.-made research reactor operating in Tehran.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state TV's web site as saying the new research reactor is for radioactive isotopes for medical needs of patients in Iran and abroad.
"Designing the reactor will be completed by the year end and two years will be needed to construct it. ... Our plan is to build four reactors in four corners of the country so that, given the short life of nuclear medicine, all patients will get the products throughout Iran," the website quoted him as saying.
Salehi also said Iran possesses technology to produce fuel rods for such reactors and the first should be ready sometime next spring.
The announcements reflect Iran's confusing response to the U.N. sanctions.
Ahmadinejad has countered with insults and dismissive remarks, but also claims the door is still open for dialogue on the nuclear standoff. The huge obstacle, however, is that the talks must be on Iran's terms.
Ahmadinejad also attacked the U.S., saying Iran needs to save Americans from "their undemocratic and bullying government." He charged there was no freedom in the U.S. and newspapers in America were not authorized to write against the Zionists or hold rallies against the "crimes" committed by their government.
Ahmadinejad was reacting to an invitation by the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to discuss the nuclear issue. At the same time, though, EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to recommend additional sanctions over the nuclear issue.
Larijani, the parliament speaker, also warned that Iran will reciprocate if the U.S. or other countries inspect Iranian planes or ships in line with new sanctions.
"We warn the U.S. and some adventurist countries that should they be tempted to inspect consignment of Iranian planes and ships, they should rest assured that we will reciprocate (by inspecting) their ships in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea," he said.
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