Medvedev Says Iran Getting Closer to Nuclear Bomb Capability, Urges Talks

Iran is getting closer to achieving the capability to make nuclear weapons, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, as the Islamic republic vowed to multiply its enriched uranium stockpile.

“We have to get away from short-cut approaches to this issue,” Medvedev said in a meeting with ambassadors in Moscow today. “It’s obvious that Iran is moving closer to possessing a capability that could in principle be used to build nuclear weapons.”

The Russian president called for the urgent resumption of talks on the Iranian nuclear program. The plea came after Iran, which has rejected United Nations Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment, said it can produce enough 20 percent enriched uranium to power a Tehran research reactor, which needs six times the country’s current stockpile, by September 2011.

The Persian Gulf state last month came under a fourth set of UN sanctions and tougher U.S. and European Union measures. Iran has enough low-enriched uranium to make two nuclear bombs that could be ready for delivery within two years, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta said on June 27. Medvedev at the time said the U.S. assessment was a “concern.”

“The Russians, who usually do come to the Western side despite earlier rhetoric, are now looking at the real possibility that Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

Attack ‘Inevitable’

“There are increasing signs that diplomacy is not working and some kind of military strike is inevitable,” he said in a phone interview. An attack could be mounted by the U.S., Israel or the two combined, he said.

A senior envoy from Iran’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, on July 6 was reported in the Washington Times as saying that his country supports military action against Iranian nuclear facilities. The U.A.E. Foreign Ministry later said its ambassador to the U.S., Yousef al-Otaiba, had been quoted out of context.

Iran is preparing its response to an international offer of talks on the country’s nuclear program, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by the state-run Press TV on its website today. A fuel-swap plan brokered by Brazil and Turkey, which was rejected by Western nations, should be discussed, he said.

The five veto-holding members of the UN Security Council and Germany pressed Iran on July 2 to agree to talks, a day after the U.S. tightened trade restrictions on Iran following new UN sanctions on June 9. Western nations last month dismissed the plan for a fuel swap because Iran vowed to continue enriching uranium after receiving a supply of the material in a form needed to run the research reactor.

Opposing Claims

Iran refuses to suspend enrichment, saying the work is necessary for civilian purposes such as power generation. The U.S. and many of its allies say Iran’s nuclear technology may be intended for a weapons program.

Iran said last month it would enrich its own fuel for the medical reactor, which needs 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched fuel, after the U.S. and its allies rejected the deal to exchange 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.

“Iran has now produced 20 kilograms of nuclear fuel with an enrichment level of 20 percent,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said in comments reported by Press TV late yesterday. The fuel rods for the research reactor should be delivered by September next year, he said.

A nuclear weapon could be made by enriching 150 to 200 kilograms of 20 percent uranium to a concentration of 80 to 90 percent, Paul Ingram, executive director of the London-based British American Security Information Council, said in a June 23 phone interview. “Enriching to 20 percent is like going about 80 percent of the way towards having military material,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lyubov Pronina in Moscow at lpronina@bloomberg.net Henry Meyer in Dubai at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net.

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