What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Tuesday’s Headlines: Iran Starts Enrichment; Toyota Recalls Its Prius

Iran began producing higher-grade enriched uranium on Tuesday, its state television reported. Iran’s top nuclear official was quoted as saying Iran “had started the 20 percent enrichment … in Natanz” for use in a Tehran research reactor.

The United States and France said Iran’s action left no choice but to push for a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions. Russia, which has opposed new sanctions, now appears closer to that position, while China called for further talks over Iran’s nuclear program.

Even before Iran’s announcement, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he believed the U.N. should place new sanctions on Iran in “weeks, not months.”

“We must still try and find a peaceful way to resolve this issue. The only path that is left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track but it will require all of the international community to work together,” Gates said at a joint news conference in Paris with French Defense Minister Herve Morin.

The response from Israel was more harsh. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told European diplomats that Iran was “racing forward to produce a nuclear weapons.”

“This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions and these sanctions must be applied right now,” Netanyahu said.

Iran currently enriches uranium to a level of 3.5 percent, but requires 20 percent enriched uranium for its research reactor, which is meant to produce medical isotopes to treat illnesses such as cancer. A bomb would require uranium enriched to at least 90 percent.

“As international pressure grows on Iran, there will surely be those within the Islamic Republic who will argue that Tehran should build a bomb — if only to protect against an attack designed to prevent just such a danger,” says BBC analyst Joe Leyne.

That’s a viewpoint echoed by the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler. “Mohammad Ghannadi, vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that while Iran could try to produce the fuel itself, ‘there would be technical problems. Also, we’d never make it on time to help our patients,'” writes Kessler. “Meanwhile, enriching uranium under the guise of medical needs will get Tehran much closer to possessing weapons-grade material.”

Max Fisher at the Atlantic wonders if President Barack Obama’s hard-line stance will deter Iran’s nuclear program and explores several different views of the question.

*

Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it is recalling about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles worldwide to fix brake problems. The company says the problem can be fixed in 40 minutes with new software that oversees the controls of the antilock brakes.

In the United States, Toyota is recalling 133,000 Prius cars and 14,500 Lexus HS250h vehicles. (To see if your car is affected, go to Toyota’s Web site.)

The number of vehicles recalled globally by Toyota is now 8.5 million, including for acceleration pedals slow to return to the idle position. The 2010 Prius wasn’t part of the earlier recalls.

“I don’t see Toyota as an infallible company that never makes mistakes,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said at a press conference Tuesday in Tokyo. “We will face up to the facts and correct the problem, putting customers’ safety and convenience first.”

There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the United States about problems when the brakes in the Prius were applied in cold conditions and on some bumpy or slick road surfaces.

(For the record, Toyota is a NewsHour underwriter.)

*

While President Obama welcomes lawmakers from both parties to the White House on Tuesday to discuss economy and jobs legislation, many leading House Republicans said Monday night that they might refuse to participate in the president’s proposed health care summit on Feb. 25.

The Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear says that the GOP members might choose not to attend if the administration does not scrap the existing reform bills and start over.

“If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor wrote In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

*

We’ll have more on these stories today here on The Rundown and on tonight’s NewsHour. Also on Tuesday, tune in for Jim Lehrer’s interview with first lady Michelle Obama, who today at the White House plans to unveil a campaign to fight childhood obesity, a cause that is becoming her top policy priority. The Wall Street Journal details her latest initiative here.

The Latest