Latest Developments in Iranian Nuclear Development Program

While American political junkies and, specifically, the American political blogosphere have been obsessed with the newest and, probably, ultimately unimportant minutiae of the campaigns for Republican and Democratic nominations for the presidency, the world has not stopped revolving. A few new developments in Iran’s nuclear program have come to light. First, Iran has begun testing its new generation centrifuges, processing small amounts of uranium hexafluoride gas:

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Iran’s new generation of advanced centrifuges have begun processing small quantities of the gas that can be used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads, diplomats told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The diplomats emphasized that the centrifuges were working with minute amounts of uranium gas. One diplomat said Tehran has set up only 10 of the machines — far too few to make enriched uranium in the quantities needed for an industrial-scale energy or weapons program.

Still, the information revealed details of the state of Iran’s experiments with its domestically developed IR-2 centrifuges, which can churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate of the machines that now form the backbone of the Iranian nuclear project.

The existence of the IR-2 was made known only last week by diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which is investigating Iran’s nuclear program for any evidence that it might have been designed to make weapons.

Diplomats told AP last week that the new centrifuges appeared to be running empty and they could not quantify the number of machines that had been set up at the experimental facility linked to Iran’s growing underground enrichment plant at Natanz.

Fleshing out previous information, a diplomat said Wednesday that the IR-2 centrifuges were set up Jan. 20 and began processing minute amounts of uranium gas soon afterward as part of testing the machines.

Russia isn’t amused at the Iranians’ actions, taking them as a sign that they’re thumbing their noses at the international community:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia warned Iran on Wednesday that its development of rockets and continued uranium enrichment was creating the impression Tehran was intentionally ignoring the concerns of the international community.

“We do not approve of Iran’s actions in constantly demonstrating its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue enriching uranium,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agencies.

“From the point of view of international law these actions are not forbidden, but you can also not ignore that in previous years a whole host of problems were uncovered in Iran’s nuclear program,” Lavrov said, Interfax news agency reported.

“Until these problems can be removed I think it is advisable to refrain from steps, and especially from statements, that merely heat up the atmosphere and create the impression that Iran really has made up its mind to ignore the international community, the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA,” he said.

The Iranians remain defiant:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a defiant tone as he spoke to giant crowds marking the 29th anniversary of the Islamic revolution Monday, vowing never to slow down nuclear development and announcing plans for more rocket launches in Iran’s space program.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched through the capital Tehran, chanting “Death to America” and burning effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The leader’s speech before the crowd appeared aimed at showing an image of strength of his hard-line camp ahead of key parliament elections in mid-March.

Mark February 20 on your calendars. That’s when the next IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear development activities is due. It will be interesting to see if it confirms or contradicts the NIE report and to what degree.

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    “If the facts are at odds with the policy objectives of some people who are keen to impose further sanctions on Iran, that’s too bad,” the [IAEA] official added.
    Pressure on IAEA over Iran report

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