TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran wants to achieve industrial-scale uranium enrichment, setting his country on a collision course with the United States which fears Tehran wants to make an atomic bomb.
"I am officially announcing that Iran has joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology. This is the result of the Iranian nation's resistance," Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.
"Based on international regulations, we will continue our path until we achieve production of industrial-scale enrichment," he told officials and some ambassadors from regional states gathered in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The United Nations has said Iran must halt uranium enrichment, a process Western nations fear Tehran wants to master so that it can develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its aims are entirely peaceful.
The United States warned that Iran's latest declared nuclear advance could accelerate international pressures on Tehran.
"If the regime continues to move in the direction that it is currently, then we will be talking about the way forward with the other members of the (U.N.) Security Council and Germany about how to address this going forward," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
The State Department said it was unable to confirm Iran's announcement and some experts said even if Tehran's assertions were accurate, it would still be years before the Islamic state was able to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran's Atomic Energy Organization head said earlier that Iran had enriched uranium to a level used in power plants, a major step forward in the country's nuclear program.
"I am proud to announce that we have started enriching uranium to the 3.5 percent level," Gholamreza Aghazadeh said, adding that the pilot enrichment plant in Natanz, south of Tehran, was now working.
SETBACK TO SECURITY COUNCIL EFFORTSIran's announcement is a serious setback to U.N. Security Council efforts to have Tehran halt enrichment work and it could escalate a confrontation with Western powers leading to consideration of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Continued ...