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US casts doubt on Iranian enrichment claims
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 11, 2010

The White House Thursday blasted Iran's nuclear declarations as based on politics not physics, doubting Tehran's claims to have broken through with its first stocks of highly enriched uranium.

Washington also accused the Islamic Republic of imposing an "information blockade" in order to suppress anti-government demonstrations, and of cutting off Google and other Internet services to quash dissent.

A group of Republican senators meanwhile unveiled a bill aimed at increasing US support for the protests, saying Iranians were hungry for freedom and America had a duty to support them.

Washington ratcheted up a war of words with Iran's leaders, after Tehran declared itself a nuclear nation on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Two days after President Barack Obama said he was seeking a "significant" new array of international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, his spokesman Robert Gibbs hit out at Iran's claims of accelerating uranium enrichment.

"They're based on politics, not on physics," Gibbs said.

"The Iranian nuclear program has undergone a series of problems throughout the year," he said, arguing that much of what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said turned out not to be true.

"We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching," Gibbs said.

Ahmadinejad announced earlier Iran had produced a "first stock" of 20 percent enriched uranium and was capable of enriching it to 80 percent but would not do so.

Gibbs sidestepped fresh questions about apparent opposition from UN Security Council veto-wielding China to tough new sanctions against Iran to punish its refusal to agree to an international deal to defuse the nuclear crisis.

"The Chinese have and will continue to play a constructive role... we believe, and I think they believe, it's not in their interest to have a worldwide arms race," Gibbs said.

"It's certainly not in their interest economically to have an arms race in the Middle East."

Washington on Wednesday unveiled a unilateral set of tougher sanctions targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And on a visit to Ottawa, Finland's foreign minister Cai-G�ran Alexander Stubb said the European Union could announce sanctions within "days or weeks" if the UN Security Council fails to do so.

The Iranian government meanwhile confronted fresh protests in the streets of Tehran, and Washington made a fresh plea for violence to be avoided.

Gibbs recalled comments by Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize address last year, saying the White House stood "by the universal rights of Iranians to express themselves freely and to do so without intimidation or violence."

The State Department said Tehran had attempted an unprecedented "near total information blockade" in a bid to quash the demonstrations.

Spokesman Philip Crowley said US monitoring revealed the telephone network had been taken down, text messages blocked and the Internet throttled.

"It's a remarkable statement... of how significantly the Iranian government fears its own people," Crowley said.

Gibbs said Iran appeared to have "unplugged" the Google search engine and other key Internet sites and media organizations, making monitoring the protests more difficult.

Republican Senators John Cornyn and Sam Brownback unveiled legislation that would green-light non-military aid to Iranian democratic opposition groups and humanitarian aid to "victims of the current regime," their offices said.

The bill includes a non-binding statement that Washington fully backs "efforts of the Iranian people to oppose and remove the current regime and transition to a freely elected, open, and democratic government in Iran."

Obama has been careful to avoid injecting the United States into the domestic Iranian political crisis, reasoning so doing would give the government an excuse for a crackdown.

But Gibbs noted on Thursday that the Tehran government's hold over people in the streets "over the past many months is in many ways called into question."

Iran had previously enriched uranium to just 3.5 percent but has started enriching it to the higher level required for a Tehran medical research reactor, after snubbing a UN-drafted plan for fuel to be supplied by France and Russia.

The West suspects Iran of using its nuclear program as a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb, a charge Iran strongly denies.


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US casts doubt on Iranian enrichment claims
Washington (AFP) Feb 11, 2010
The White House Thursday blasted Iran's nuclear declarations as based on politics more than physics, casting doubt on Tehran's claims to have produced its first stocks of highly enriched uranium. Washington ratcheted up a war of words with Iran's leaders, after Tehran declared itself a nuclear nation on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution and at a time of rising domestic political ... read more

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