by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Dec 15, 2011
Iran is to insert its first domestically produced uranium fuel into its Tehran reactor by mid-February, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in comments published by the IRNA state news agency on Thursday.
"Within the next two months the first fuel plate which is produced with the 20 percent enriched uranium will be placed in Tehran's research reactor," Salehi, who previously headed Iran's nuclear organisation, was quoted as saying.
His statement was an excerpt from a longer interview to be released "soon," IRNA said.
The West -- which fears Iran's nuclear programme masks a push to build atomic weapons despite repeated denials from Tehran -- is sceptical that the Islamic republic has the technology to make fuel plates.
Four sets of UN sanctions and additional Western sanctions have been imposed to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear programme.
Iran has been working to enrich its stock of 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium to 20 percent, which it says it needs for research and medical purposes.
Currently, the research reactor runs on fuel imported from Argentina in 1993, but that is nearly depleted. Iran's other nuclear plant, an energy reactor at Bushehr, runs on fuel bought from Russia.
Iran was to produce its first lot of 20 percent-enriched uranium plates for the Tehran reactor in September this year, but that date passed with no result.
Salehi was quoted by IRNA as saying in mid-October that Iran would produce the plates within months.
The International Atomic Energy Agency in November released its most damning report yet on Iran's nuclear activities, saying it had evidence suggesting research into atomic warheads had been carried out.
Iran rejected the report as "baseless" and biased.
US House approves tough new Iran sanctions
US President Barack Obama's Democrats joined the chamber's Republican majority to back the harsh punitive measures in a pair of lopsided votes, 410-11 and 418-2, highlighting Washington's hostility to all three nations.
But the fate of the legislation was unclear in the Democratic-led Senate, where aides have said privately that the bills would not reach Obama amid concerns about roiling ties with trading partners as well as Russia and China.
Still, lawmakers were poised separately to adopt an annual military spending bill that includes a tough new proposal designed to cut off Iran's central bank from the world financial system, effectively an attempt to cause it to collapse.
The first stand-alone measure adopted by the House called for punishing countries and companies that invest in Iran's energy sector, furnish it with gasoline, or provide Tehran with know-how that may help develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons or advanced conventional arms.
It took special aim at energy investments that benefit Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and meant to toughen existing sanctions by making it harder for the president to waive the measures on grounds of national security.
The second measure targeted nations or firms that help Iran, North Korea, or Syria advance their alleged efforts to acquire nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons or develop their missile programs.
The sanctions included freezing a person or company's US assets, bans on travel to the United States, denial of US government contracts, and restricting access to loans from US banks or entities like the Export-Import Bank.
The two bills won approval at a time when Democrats and Republicans alike have expressed fears that time is running out before Iran -- which denies it seeks nuclear weapons -- gets an atomic arsenal.
One of the bills specifically takes aim at Russia, forbidding any "extraordinary payments" connected to the International Space Station until Obama certifies to Congress that Moscow opposes allowing Iran, North Korea, and Syria to develop weapons of mass destruction or missile systems.
Obama would also have to certify that Russia's space agency has not, during the past year, transferred any technology or services that would help those countries develop such weapons.
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Iran to exploit power vacuum as US quits Iraq: analysts
Riyadh (AFP) Dec 14, 2011
The US withdrawal from Iraq will leave a power vacuum in the Gulf, analysts say, paving the way for Iran to increase its influence in this economic and politically strategic region, a concern echoed by America's Gulf allies. "The US withdrawal from Iraq will no doubt create a power vacuum," said Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, noting that the US presence in the region ... read more
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