Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Reuters

In recent months, Iranian regime spokesmen have conducted a campaign of statements regarding Iran's intent to enrich uranium for use in nuclear-fueled ships and submarines, according to a Thursday report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

MEMRI has found that regime officials, regime dailies, and websites close to the Iranian regime have issued no fewer than 12 such statements, in which they declared Iran's intent to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel to power both surface sea craft and submarines. It should be noted that while nuclear fuel for surface craft entails uranium enrichment of 50-60%, nuclear-powered submarines require enrichment of 90%, which is the same level needed for the production of a nuclear bomb.

MEMRI’s report translates and quotes the statements made on this issue by Iranian officials.

A report in the Fars news agency on July 17 said that Majlis (Iranian parliament) members prepared a draft bill requiring the government to design nuclear-powered merchant ships and provide them with nuclear fuel.

In the same report Majlis member Allahoradi Dehqani explained, "The government must enrich uranium to the level needed to provide fuel for these ships, since we cannot end our trade relations with other countries due to Western sanctions. Because of sanctions leveled by Western countries against Iran, which include a ban on providing fuel to Iranian vessels, Iran will replace fossil fuel with nuclear fuel in order to bypass the need to refuel during long voyages."

Another Majlis member involved in the initiative, Abolghasem Jarareh, said in a report in Fars three days later, "This [nuclear] fuel will undoubtedly [be enriched to a level] higher than 25%- to about 50-60%."

In an analysis published July 16, 2012, the website Mashreg News, which is close to security circles in Iran, claimed, "Iran's nuclear industry will have to increase nuclear enrichment to the average level of new marine reactors, in the range of 50-60%. Considering the new sanctions and pretexts meant to prevent the transfer of fuel to Iran's oil tankers, this move could be a substantial step that will bring about the neutralization, uprooting, and bypassing of the sanctions..."

The head of the Policy-Making Council of Iran's Friday Prayer Leaders, Hojjatoleslam Seyed Reza Taghavi, warned on July 22 that Tehran would enrich uranium to 56% if the pressure on it continued. He was quoted in the Entekhab newspaper.

MEMRI also quoted a declaration dated June 12 by Iranian Navy Deputy Commander for Technical Affairs Rear Adm. Abbas Zamini, who said that Iran had taken preliminary steps toward the construction of super-heavy nuclear-fueled submarines: "Right now, we are at the initial phases of manufacturing atomic submarines," he said according to Fars.

Amir Mousavi, a former advisor to the defense minister, said in a report on Al-Alam TV dated July 23, that Iran has the necessary knowhow to enrich uranium to the 50-60% level needed to fuel nuclear ships and submarines, but added that it was prepared to discuss Western demands if the West recognized its right to develop civilian nuclear technology.

MEMRI translated a report on the Iranian website, which is close to Iran's team of nuclear negotiators, and which claimed on July 17, "Producing [nuclear] fuel for submarines and ships entails raising the level of enrichment beyond 20%. However, it is extremely important to note that this is an entirely civilian move, as, according to the NPT, Iran has the right to enrich [uranium] to any level it wishes, for civilian use. This [comes as] a direct response to Europe and the U.S.'s recent sanctions against Iran..."

The daily Etemad explained in a report dated July 18 that the move would serve Iran in future nuclear talks. "According to several Western commentators, the issue of producing nuclear fuel for submarines will enable Iran to pave the proper way for nuclear progress, as it will [entail] enriching uranium to a grade higher than 20%. Under these conditions, Iran will benefit from a greater potential for progress in future talks with the 5+1,” said the report.

The website, which is close to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), claimed on July 28 that "according to authoritative reports published by scientific sources, producing fuel for nuclear submarines or ships necessitates uranium enrichment to a level of 90%, but technical experts in Tehran say that not all nuclear submarines require [fuel] enriched to 90%, and that fuel [enriched] to 52-57% will be sufficient."

However, noted MEMRI, in an apparent belated realization that the statements regarding nuclear submarines and 90% had incriminated Iran in intending to enrich uranium for military purposes beginning in early August 2012, Iranian media and regime mouthpieces are now refraining from mentioning the demand or the ability to enrich uranium to a level beyond 20%.

Furthermore, since late July 2012, regime officials have stressed that Tehran does not at this stage require enrichment beyond 20%, according to MEMRI.

On September 19, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) director Fereydoon Abbasi stated, following a meeting with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano at a gathering of the IAEA Board of Governors, “Iran has no intention of enriching uranium beyond 20%."

Majlis speaker Ali Larijani was interviewed by the Financial Times on September 22, 2012. Asked about Iran's decision to build nuclear submarines, which require enriched uranium beyond 20%, he said, "If the IAEA allows us to have some products for peaceful technology and under its supervision, then we can do it. But for now, we do not need it. If the IAEA had met its obligations and had provided the Tehran nuclear reactor with fuel plates, we would not have produced [even] 20% enriched uranium..."