TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iran said Sunday its nuclear activities have not halted or slowed down, rejecting reports that it has not significantly expanded its uranium enrichment program this summer as planned.
“There has been no slowing down, no halt and no retreat. Our activities continue on the same basis we began our peaceful nuclear program,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters.
Hosseini was responding to speculation that the threat of more U.N. Security Council sanctions may have forced Iran to slow down its disputed uranium enrichment program.
He also accused the U.S. of seeking to derail Iran’s talks with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement last week on a timetable to respond to remaining questions over Tehran’s controversial nuclear activities.
The U.S. criticized the deal saying the agreement won’t save Iran from a third set of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. The remark drew criticism from some diplomats in Vienna, where IAEA is based, who suggested that Washington was trying to derail important progress in the Iranian nuclear negotiations in its drive to impose new U.N. penalties.
“Nothing else is expected from the U.S. The trend (of talks) between Iran and the IAEA has been successful … other countries welcomed that. But Americans are making efforts to harm this trend,” Hosseini said.
The U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is solely geared toward generating electricity.
Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is expected to allow for easier inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities by IAEA experts and encourage Tehran to give detailed answers on remaining questions over two decades of its nuclear activities. But officials have not provided details about the agreement.
The agreement came amid speculation that Iran has been trying to make concessions in an apparent attempt to stave off a third round of sanctions. Any Iranian decision to cooperate with the IAEA could weaken the push for new U.N. sanctions — even if Iran continues to defy the council’s main demand that it freeze uranium enrichment.
Experts have said there also are indications suggesting that Iran has frozen its uranium enrichment program at about 2,000 centrifuges.
That is same number Iran was operating in June when the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in a report that Iran had assembled just under 2,000 centrifuges in links or cascades of 164 machines each — the configuration needed for enrichment.
Iran announced a dramatic expansion of its uranium enrichment in April, saying it has begun operating 3,000 centrifuges — but the IAEA said at the time that Iran had only 328 centrifuges operating at its Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
Hosseini didn’t say how many centrifuges were operating in Natanz now but experts say Iran had been expected to operate 3,000 centrifuges by now but it didn’t have more than 2,000 operating.
Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium. Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce nuclear fuel for reactors, while further enrichment makes it suitable for use in atomic weapons.