Khatami Says Iran Mines Uranium for Nuclear Plant
Reuters - 9 Feb
— By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mohammad Khatami said on Sunday Iran had mined uranium for nuclear energy, and insisted its nuclear program was solely for civilian use, the official news agency IRNA said.
The surprise announcement -- the first time an Iranian leader has acknowledged possession of uranium ore reserves -- may alarm Washington, which accuses the Islamic Republic of harboring secret plans to develop nuclear weapons.
"Iran has discovered reserves and extracted uranium...we are determined to use nuclear technology for civilian purposes," IRNA quoted Khatami as saying.
He said the uranium had been extracted near the central city of Yazd and processing facilities had been set up in the central cities of Isfahan and Kashan.
Iran, which Washington has labelled a member of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea, insists its nuclear plans are purely for civilian purposes for its 65 million people.
It has invited inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), to verify its nuclear facilities later this month.
In another development, state television quoted Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani as saying Iran, for the first time, had developed the capacity to produce composite solid fuels for its missiles.
"This solid fuel could be used for any kind of missile," he said after inaugurating a manufacturing plant Sunday.
Iran makes middle-range missiles, anti-tank missiles, air- to-surface missiles and surface-to-surface guided missiles that use composite solid fuel.
U.S. CRITICAL OF RUSSIAN HELP
Washington, Iran's arch-foe, has long been at odds with Russia over its help in building an $800 million nuclear power plant at Iran's southwestern port of Bushehr, which Tehran expects to come on stream at the end of 2003 or early in 2004.
U.S. fears over the project were somewhat assuaged by assurances from Moscow that all spent fuel from the plant would be returned to Russia, ensuring that it would not be diverted to a weapons program.
But the discovery of its own uranium supplies could, in theory, make Iran independent of Russia for its nuclear fuel needs.
Diplomats said Khatami's announcement stemmed from world pressure to come clean about the scope of its nuclear program.
"They seem to be making a creeping announcement of what their capabilities are," said one European diplomat.
The head of the Iranian parliament's Energy Commission, Hossein Afarideh, told Reuters the extracted uranium, after being processed, could be used as fuel for the Bushehr power plant.
Iran has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and has said it might build further nuclear power plants to meet its booming electricity demand.