(Note: the above makes it sound as though I am being dismissive of nuclear developments in Iran. I was only being dismissive of this latest announcement. For years I have consistently argued that Iranian possession of nuclear warheads and delivery systems is absolutely unacceptable and I have called for the use of military force against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities.)
Iran’s president boasted Thursday that his nation had the capacity to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel if it chose to, in a speech intended to rally the nation as it marked the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution….
In the address in Azadi Square in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad relied on familiar nationalist and anti-Western themes, accusing the United States and Europe of trying to hold Iran down and challenging them by saying that Iran had already succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 percent and could do even more.
“We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent, but we don’t enrich because we don’t need it,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.
But he added a warning to the West. “Please pay attention and understand that the people of Iran are brave enough that if it wants to build a bomb it will clearly announce it and build it and not be afraid of you,” he said. “When we say we won’t build it that means we won’t.”
The president also repeated his declaration that Iran was a “nuclear state,” adding that it had the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons grade if it chose to. The West has accused Iran of running a nuclear weapons program, while Iran has insisted that it is pursuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
“The Iranian nuclear issue has become the main pillar of the regime’s legitimacy,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, an Iran expert in Cairo. “So Ahmadinejad is putting it in the center of the scene in order to conceal the internal differences and huge domestic challenges they face.”
It is not at all clear how much uranium has been enriched or whether Iran has the capacity to transform that into either weapons-grade fuel or even into the fuel rods necessary for running the medical research reactor it says it aims to supply.
The Obama administration dismissed the idea that Iran had the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons grade. The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, “Iran has made a series of statements” that were “based on politics, not on physics,” The Associated Press reported.