Israel is “closely watching” the Islamic Republic’s progress on nuclear development, according to a statement issued Thursday night by Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office.
“The defense establishment is closely watching the nuclear developments in Iran,” said the statement. “The inauguration of the new plant proves and strengthens the international need to monitor the Iranian nuclear project.”
Earlier in the day, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a nuclear plant that is set to produce uranium oxide fuel pellets for the planned heavy-water nuclear reactor in Isfahan.
Israel and Western nations, including the United States, have become increasingly concerned at the likelihood that Iran may use the spent fuel from the heavy-water reactor to produce an atomic weapon.
A recent report by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the agency has discovered 460 more pounds of low-enriched uranium than Iran had disclosed. The agency also reported that Iran is using approximately 4,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its Natanz facility, with another 1,600 "in the wings." That compares with the November report of 3,800 functioning centrifuges.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not perturbed over the announcement that a new nuclear plant was set to begin producing fuel in the Islamic Republic.
“We do not attribute any particular meaning, with respect to the range of issues that we are looking to address with the Iranians, from this particular statement,” she said. “We don’t know what to believe about the Iranian program. We’ve heard many different assessments and claims over a number of years.”
U.S. to Participate in UN Council Talks with Iran
The United States has announced that it will participate in proposed group talks between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, and Iran.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said “the U.S. will join P5+1 discussions with Iran from now on.” The P5+1 refers to representatives from Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. plus one other country.
“We believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense. There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon,” said Clinton.
It was not clear how Iran would respond to the proposal, however. “We will review it and then decide about it,” said Iranian official Ali Akbar Javanfekr, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The Iranian nation has always been for talks,” said Ahmadinejad at Thursday’s opening ceremony, but qualified the statement by saying negotiations must “be based on justice and respecting rights.”