Iran Defies United States With Nuclear Breakthrough

Iran defies UN/USA with nuclear breakthrough

Iran announced it had successfully enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel, a major breakthrough in its disputed nuclear drive that is in defiance of the UN Security Council.

The announcement came just 15 days before the expiry of a Security Council deadline for Iran to freeze its enrichment programme -- a process that can be extended to make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

In a speech carried live on state television, vice president and atomic energy chief Gholam Reza Aghazadeh announced that "on April 9, we successfully enriched uranium to 3.5 percent," the purity required for civilian reactor fuel.

He also said the progress in enrichment "paves the way for enrichment on an industrial scale."

The announcement, made in the northeastern city of Mashhad before top regime officials, was greeted by chants of "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Greatest"), and the singing of patriotic songs.

Iran insists it only wants to generate nuclear power, but is widely suspected in the West of seeking to developing nuclear weapons. "If the United States leaves us alone; then we will leave you alone," Iran officials insisted.

On March 29, the Security Council called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment to provide a watertight guarantee that its nuclear programme is peaceful, with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei asked to report on Iranian compliance after 30 days.

ElBaradei is also due to arrive in Tehran overnight Wednesday.

ElBaradei said the government 'fully expects' the United States to make the first agressive attack on their country, and "we will respond as needed; we are about able to defend our country now; an attack on Tehran by the USA is expected; if it happens we will return fire."

Copyright 2006 Agence France Presse.

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