- Associated Press -
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's announcement of plans to build 10 more uranium enrichment facilities is largely bluster after a strong rebuke from the U.N.'s nuclear agency, analysts said Monday. Nonetheless, the defiance is fueling calls among Western allies for new punitive sanctions to freeze Iran's nuclear program.
U.S. and European officials were swift to condemn the plans, warning that Iran risked sinking ever deeper into isolation. Iran responded that it felt forced to move forward with the plans after the passed a resolution Friday demanding that it halt all enrichment activities.
Iran's bold announcement Sunday appears to be largely impossible to achieve as long as sanctions continue to throw up roadblocks and force Iran to turn to black markets and smuggling for nuclear equipment, said nuclear expert.
"They can't build those plants. There's no way," he said. "They have sanctions to overcome, they have technical problems. They have to buy things overseas ... and increasingly it's all illegal."
A more worrisome escalation in the standoff would be if Iran reduced its cooperation with the IAEA, as some Iranian officials have threatened to do if the West continues its pressure. The U.N. inspectors and monitoring are the world's only eyes on Tehran's program. The head of Iran's nuclear agency on Monday ruled out an even more drastic move, saying Tehran does not intend to withdraw from the.
Enrichment is at the center of the standoff between Iran and the West because it can be used both to produce material needed for atomic weapons as well as fuel for. Iran insists it only wants the latter.
New enrichment plants, on the scale of the one Iran already operates in the town of Natanz, would be extremely expensive, take years to build and would be difficult to stock with centrifuges and other necessary equipment while sanctions are in place, Albright said.
Further dimming the credibility of the plan, 10 new facilities on the scale of Natanz would put Iran in league with the production levels of any of Europe's major commercial enrichment suppliers, said Albright, president of the.
"And also they don't have enough uranium. They would need a massive amount of uranium," he said.
A diplomat from one of the six world powers attempting to engage Iran on its nuclear program described the Iranian announcement as a "political move" with little immediate significance beyond demonstrating Tehran's defiance.
The diplomat, who follows the nuclear dossier the IAEA has gathered on Iran, noted that Tehran appears to have significant problems with its present enrichment program, to the point that it cannot even keep the centrifuges it has set up at Natanz running without breakdowns.
The diplomat demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the issue.