The announcement comes on the first anniversary of what Iran announced was its initial success in enriching small amounts of uranium at the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad delivered a televised speech from Natanz in which he said Iran has now joined the club of countries with "industrial-level" nuclear enrichment. He added that world powers cannot stop Iran's nuclear drive, and said the country's nuclear program is on its way to the "summit."
State-run television had predicted Ahmadinejad -- whose administration has painted the dispute over his country's nuclear activities as a Western attempt to hamstring Iran's scientific and intellectual development -- would announce "good nuclear news" at today's event.
"I proudly announce that as of today Iran is among the countries which produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," Ahmadinejad said.
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani was today quoted as saying that Tehran is ready for "real negotiations with the aim of reaching an understanding" over its atomic plans.
But he also hinted at the possibility of Tehran revising its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
"If they continue to pressure Iran over its peaceful nuclear activities we have no other choice but to follow parliament's order and review our membership of the NPT," Larijani was quoted as saying.
The UN Security Council has approved two resolutions in the past four months to impose sanctions on Iran in an effort to pressure the country to halt uranium enrichment.
'Very Concerned' In Washington
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was quoted as saying shortly after Ahmadinejad's speech that the reported expansion demonstrates that UN sanctions were justified.
McCormack said the announcement signaled a "missed opportunity."
A subsequent statement from the White House's National Security Council expressed concern over Iran's move.
"We are very concerned about Iran's announcement that they entered an industrial stage of nuclear fuel production," said the council's spokesman, Gordon Johndroe. "Iran continues to defy the international community and further isolate itself by expanding its nuclear program, rather than suspending uranium enrichment."
U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of covertly seeking to develop or possess nuclear weapons, a scenario that President George W. Bush insists is "unacceptable."
Officials in Tehran have consistently described their nuclear efforts as strictly peaceful.
Tehran Touts Nuclear 'Blessing'
"We have gathered here today to celebrate the entry of the uranium-enrichment project into an industrial level, thanks to God's eternal blessing," the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Vice President Gholam Reza Aqazadeh, told the Natanz gathering earlier today.
"Now we are entering the mass production of centrifuges and starting to launch industrial-scale enrichment, another step toward the flourishing of Islamic Iran," AP quoted Aqazadeh as saying.
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has criticized Iran for obfuscation and a lack of disclosure, and said it has insufficient evidence to conclude that Iran's nuclear program is dedicated to solely to nonmilitary aims.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on April 8 that Iran will not negotiate over its "obvious rights" to enrich uranium. He added that Iran's military is "totally prepared" to defend the country.
(AP, Reuters, AFP)
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