Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Monday that Iran has begun enriching uranium “on an industrial scale,” an expansion of the nuclear program that has drawn U.N. sanctions and condemnation from the United States.
“With great honor, I declare that as of today our dear country has joined the nuclear club of nations,” President Ahmadinejad said at the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
Fuel for a civilian nuclear reactor or material for an atomic weapon can be produced from enriched uranium, although Iran has insisted it is only interested in pursuing a nuclear energy program. The United States and other Western nations have accused the Persian nation of attempting to military nuclear program.
Monday’s announcement confirmed that Iran has added to the 328 centrifuges the country was known to be operating. Iran has said it has 3,000 centrifuges, critical to the purifying and enriching of raw uranium, ready for production.
The U.N. Security Council, led by the United States, first imposed sanctions on Iran in December, increased them in March and set a deadline of late May for Iran to stop uranium production. The United Nations has said that it intends to impose sanctions on Iran as long as it continues to enrich uranium.
“What we are looking for are reasonable Iranian leaders who view the cost-benefit calculation and see that it is not to the benefit of the Iranian people to continue to pursue the course on which they find themselves,” Sean McCormack, U.S. State Department spokesman, said Monday.
A White House spokesman also criticized the announcement.
“Iran continues to defy the international community and further isolate itself by expanding its nuclear program, rather than suspending uranium enrichment,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog group, had no immediate comment on Monday’s announcement.
The United Nations’ most recent action against Iran’s nuclear program occurred March 24, when the Security Council voted unanimously to impose additional sanctions for Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Russia and China, which have trade ties with Iran, also called on the Islamic republic to fulfill the United Nations’ demands.
“The reason we are doing this resolution is because Iran continues to refuse to comply,” Alejandro Wolff, acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in March. “As soon as Iran suspends its enrichment activities in a verifiable manner, the council will suspend its actions, and we will be able to address this issue politically again. So it’s not a high bar for Iran to meet.”
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told Iranian state television on Monday that the United Nations must accept the nuclear program. “We are ready to reach understanding with the Westerners through a corridor of real negotiations — in the current situation, in which Iran’s nuclear activities have been concluded.”
In his speech at the Natanz plant, President Ahmadinejad said that Iran has been cooperative with the United Nations, allowing inspections of facilities, but warned, “Don’t do something that will make this great nation reconsider its policies.”