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Iranian trumpets nuclear feats

Special to The Times

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday boasted that his country was nearing the “peak” of its efforts to unlock the secrets of the atom, and he again ruled out suspending the nuclear program.

But another Iranian official revealed that Russia continues to withhold key equipment to get an almost-complete nuclear power plant near the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr up and running, evidence that Moscow retains important leverage with Tehran.

In defiance of the United Nations Security Council, Iran continues to refine efforts to enrich uranium gas, a process that could be used to make fuel for a nuclear power plant or, if highly enriched, to make fissile material for an atomic weapon.

Ahmadinejad’s speech in Bushehr broke no new ground. It came on a campaign-like two-day visit to the city six weeks before crucial Iranian elections in which his parliamentary allies face emboldened challenges from the left and right wings of the political establishment.

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Iran watchers say the president reaps political benefits from being scorned by the West for his defiant remarks.

“Now you see our scientists have managed to enrich and make a complete fuel cycle and Iran is one of the world’s nuclear countries,” Ahmadinejad told a crowd. “The Iranian nation will resist the pressure and not withdraw one iota from its rights. If you believe that Iran would give in to pressure, then you are making a grave mistake.”

The United States, Britain, Russia, China and France are the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. They, along with Germany, have prepared a third set of sanctions to impose on Iran if it refuses to halt its enrichment program, which many suspect masks a drive to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran insists that it wants nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes and says recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. intelligence community show that it has no ambitions to develop such weapons. Ahmadinejad repeated Iran’s offer to partner with the West in the creation of an enriched uranium consortium, but as a producer.

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The Bush administration demands that Iran cease its enrichment activities before the U.S. will enter into any such negotiations.

Along with enrichment, Iran has been busy expanding other nuclear facilities. Russians this week delivered the last of about 90 tons of nuclear fuel rods for the light-water reactor they are building near Bushehr.

But Ahmad Fayyaz-Bakhsh, deputy chief of Iran’s nuclear energy association, told reporters Wednesday that the Russians had yet to deliver “precision instruments which should be provided . . . as a final touch.”

He said the Russians had promised to deliver the equipment, presumably for use in the plant’s control room, by October.

Officials in Washington and Moscow argue that the Russian fuel deliveries nullify Iran’s need to enrich its own uranium. But Iranian officials say they need enriched uranium to fuel a 360-megawatt light-water reactor near the town of Darkhovin, across the border from the Iraqi city of Basra, to be built within the next decade.

Spent fuel from the Bushehr plant will be returned to Russia. Iran has no facilities for processing such used materials, which can also be modified for weapons. Fayyaz-Bakhsh told reporters that Iranian authorities “have not yet decided” what to do with nuclear waste from other sites.

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daragahi@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Daragahi from Beirut.


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