Iran announced Friday that is had developed a new, faster generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, signaling its determination to press on with its nuclear work despite possible new sanctions being sought by U.S. President Barack Obama.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had indicated earlier in the week that a "momentous" development was in the offing about Iran's nuclear program and Friday's announcement of a new generation of centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility came as little surprise.
Both Ahmadinejad and Iran's atomic energy head Ali Akbar Salehi spoke at a ceremony marking Friday's "Nuclear Energy Day," amid pomp and media fanfare.
Salehi spoke at great length about Iran's nuclear achievements, thanking Iranian scientists for their hard work, and praised President Ahmedinejad for his part in the nuclear program. He then went on to laud the most recent development. He said Iran will show off its third generation of centrifuges which are considerably more advanced and capable of a separation power which is 10 times faster than that of the first generation.
Iran's dogged determination to continue with its nuclear program, despite Western charges that it is trying to build nuclear weapons, will be the subject of a nuclear security conference in Washington, next week, to be attended by both Russia and China.
Ahmadinejad repeatedly denied, during his speech, that Iran has any intention of building an "atomic bomb," emphasizing the merits of peaceful civilian nuclear power. He said Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant saves a considerable amount of oil. He also said climate change is affecting the world and that fossil fuels are contributing to the problem, so nuclear energy is necessary. He went on to insist that nuclear energy is a Divine right of every nation.
The Iranian president also appeared to aim his speech at other third-world nations, complaining that it was the U.S. that used the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that the U.S. had invaded Iraq but found no nuclear weapons.
He went on to plug Tehran's own nuclear "disarmament conference", due to begin this weekend, complaining that nuclear weapons are a "world" problem. He stated that all independent nations are threatened by nuclear weapons, which he said are part of a global crisis.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says that Iran's announcement Friday about its new third generation of centrifuges, if it were true, will give it the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so, that much more quickly. "The bottom line is quite simple: If indeed Iran has been able to put together a new generation of centrifuges that are able to spin faster and are more efficient and more reliable, it means that Iran can enrich uranium faster… and the question is: where will these centrifuges go to," he said.
Ottolenghi notes that the 2007 National Defense Assessment postulated that Iran was conducting a parallel clandestine nuclear weapons program and that a newer form of centrifuge would reduce the time needed to build an atomic bomb from a year to considerably less than that.
Obama, who hosts next week's nuclear security summit in Washington is seeking the support of Western powers for a new round of sanctions against Iran.
Nevertheless, Obama spoke philosophically about the merits of sanctions, telling ABC's Good Morning America, that "international pressure" on countries like Iran and North Korea "sometimes [cause them] to change behavior, [and] sometimes they don't."