Iran Claims it Has Advanced Centrifuges in Operation
Tehran marked "nuclear technology day" on earlier this week, stating it had improved its uranium enrichment processing capabilities, Reuters reports.
The technology touted, advanced centrifuges, is key to producing weapons grade nuclear material and has been a poignant point of concern for Israeli and US officials, who are concerned Iran's nuclear program has military aims.
Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and has dismissed international sanctions that were tightened last year as illegal and ineffective.
Talks with global powers aimed at resolving the nuclear impasse stalled in January, with Tehran insisting it would not accept any curb on its nuclear enrichment activities.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his speech to underscore the symbolic importance of Iran having its own civil nuclear capacity, comparing the West's attempts to curb the program to the hostile British and US reaction to Iran's nationalisation of its oil industry in the 1950s.
"If we should evaluate Iran's achievements in the nuclear field," Ahmadinejad said. "It might exceed the nationalisation of the oil industry in importance. Back then, more important than the oil itself was the independence and the honour of the nation."
Fereidoun Abbasi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency told the conference that "second and third generation" centrifuges had been produced and tested, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Abbasi also said the Natanz enrichment site in central Iran would be producing uranium enriched to 20 percent purity - much more potent than the level needed for nuclear fuel but still not pure enough for weapons material.
Iran intends to activate the Bushehr plant in May.
"It's difficult to know what is propaganda and what is real, but what is clear is that they are making progress," Ephraim Kam, Deputy Head of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, and a former colonel in the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence, said of the announcement.
"There's no question that progress is being made," Kam said. "The nucelar agenda of Iran is not on the world's agenda at all. For months, there have been no challenges from Europe or the US, and negotiations are stalled. There is no pressure on Iran."
Kam's statements would seem to indicate Iran has managed to overcome the Stuxnet computer virus which seriously crippled Iran's nuclear program and forced them to shut down their enrichment program for an extended period.
While Iran may find itself in a comofrtable position vis-a-vis the West, Iran's Arab neighbors across the Persian Gulf have expressed deep concerned about the Iranian nuclear program and the Islamic Republic's machinations in the region.
On Teusday the Israeli open source defense and intelligence news site, Debka, reported Saudi and Kuwait officials told the United States, should Iran activate the Bushehr reactor in May the region would suffer "a second Fukushima" disaster.
The warning might stem from reports Russian engineer's in Bushehr found metal shards in the reactor intake, which could mean all is not as well as Iran would have the world believe at Bushehr.
It also underscores discord between Saudi Arabia and the Obama Administration on how to confront Shiite Iran's aggressive geopolitical posture. For their part, the Saudis and their allies are seeking to forge a strategic bulwark against Iran.
On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would be speaking to members of the US Congress about dealing with the Iranian threat.
In the past Saudi officials have expressed, behind closed doors, a willingness to allow Israel to use their airspace to strike Iran's nuclear program.
The Bushehr site is on the Iranian coast, less than 100 kilometers from Saudi Arabia across the Persian Gulf.
Map Source: Wikimedia Commons / INN Staff