TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted Tuesday that Iran will soon have mastered the production of nuclear fuel, but he added the country was far from producing enough fuel to power its Russian-built reactor.
Addressing a press conference, Ahmadinejad claimed that the world had finally accepted that Iran has the complete cycle of fuel production — from mining uranium to enriching it to the level required for consumption in a nuclear power plant.
"Initially, they were very angry," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the United States and EU powers that have protested Iran's enrichment of uranium. "The reason was clear: They basically wanted to monopolize nuclear power in order to rule the world and impose their will on nations.
"Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing the (whole) nuclear fuel cycle," he said.
He did not give any example of the West's accepting Iran's enrichment capability. In fact, both U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Monday for Iran to cease enrichment — a process that can also produce material for nuclear bombs.
The U.S. and its European allies are currently negotiating with Russia and China over a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would penalize Iran for its refusal to respect an Aug. 31 deadline for a cessation of enrichment. Russia and China — which have extensive trade with Iran — are rejecting the harsh sanctions that the Western allies want to impose.
Ahmadinejad said Iran would talk to the United States if it behaves correctly, but he did not spell out what he expects Washington to do.
"We will talk to the U.S. government under certain conditions. Should it correct its behavior, we will talk to them," he said when asked whether his government would talk to Washington "about various issues."
The comment was the highest-level statement by Iran in recent months that it is willing to talk to the country which it has long demonized as "the Great Satan." Iran has twice proposed talks with the United States— in March and on Nov. 5.
Iran quickly withdrew the March offer, accusing the U.S. of trying to exploit the talks. When it renewed the proposal this month, analysts said Iran was concerned about the escalating turmoil in Iraq and might also be seeking to slow Washington's push for sanctions over its nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Bush said his line on Iran was: "we are willing to come to the table with the European Union, as well as Russia and China to discuss a way forward" in relations.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush reiterated that for talks to take place, Iran must agree to verifiably suspend enrichment.
However, there is growing sentiment in policy-making circles in Washington and London that talks with Iran could help to contain in Iraq, where Iran has great influence among leaders of the Shiite Muslim majority.
Ahmadinejad highlighted the progress of the nuclear program, speaking of staging celebrations.
"I'm very hopeful that we will be able to hold the big celebration of Iran's full nuclearization in the current year," the president said, referring to Iran's calendar year, which ends March 20.
But he acknowledged that Iran still had a long way to go before it could produce the amount of enriched uranium sufficient to power the reactor it has built at Bushehr, southern Iran, with Russian technical assistance. The reactor is due to come on stream next year.
"We need time to produce enough fuel for one complete nuclear power plant," he said.
Iran has said it intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006, and then expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges — the number required to produce enough fuel for the 1,000-megawatt reactor at Bushehr.
"We have to go for up to 60,000 centrifuges. We are still in the first stages," Ahmadinejad said.
The world has been increasing concerned about Iran's nuclear program since more than three years ago when it was revealed that the country had kept secret for many years certain aspects of its nuclear development.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear program. Iran denies this, insisting that its program is entirely geared toward producing electricity.
On Tuesday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — reported that its inspectors had found unexplained plutonium and enriched uranium traces in a nuclear waste facility in Iran. The IAEA has asked Iran to explain, said the report obtained by The Associated Press in Vienna.
The report, prepared for next week's IAEA meeting, also faulted Tehran for not cooperating with the agency's attempts to investigate suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear program.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Ahmadinejad's boast of Iran mastering nuclear fuel production and the discocvery of unexplained plutonium in an Iranian nuclear waste facility "demonstrate the urgency for the Security Council to act on Iran."
"Sanctions are obviously the only means to get Iran's attention," Bolton said in a statement in New York.
Iran claims that as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
An Iranian reporter at the press conference asked Ahmadinejad why he was being "unkind" to the few moderate newspapers remaining after numerous bannings. The government closed two opposition papers in September, one of which had poked fun at Ahmadinejad's handling of the nuclear dispute.
Sitting in front of a large picture of Mount Damavand, Iran's highest peak, Ahmadinejad replied his government was "kind" to all media, but some papers had gone beyond criticism.
He reminded the journalist that the government was providing newsprint to the papers at subsidized prices.