Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel warned the international community on Tuesday not to delay in dealing with Iran after the Islamic republic announced that it had enriched uranium for the first time. The U.S. said Iran was moving in the "wrong direction."
Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said that Iran had succeeded in enriching a small amount of uranium.
Enriched uranium can be used to fuel a civilian nuclear reactor, but if it is enriched to a higher degree, it is a key component for an atomic weapon. Experts have said that once Tehran possessed this technology, the nation would be well on its way to developing a nuclear bomb.
Oil-rich Iran says its nuclear program is intended for civilian energy production, but the Western world believes Iran has used its civilian program to conceal a clandestine program to develop an atomic bomb.
Israel said the announcements on Tuesday should prove the "true nature" of the Iranian program and spark concerns about the timeline.
"Iran's announcement serves as a further example of the real danger in delaying concrete diplomatic measures in the face of the continuing Iranian refusal to comply with international demands to stop its nuclear activities," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
"Israel believes that the Iranian nuclear program should be confronted by a broad and determined international coalition," Regev said.
The U.N. Security Council had given Iran until the end of the month to comply with a demand from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- the United Nations nuclear watchdog -- that it fully suspend its enrichment research and activities.
In response to the news, Washington said that Iran was "moving in the wrong direction."
This report "only further underscores why the international community has serious concerns about the regime's nuclear ambitions," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Rafsanjani told the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that Iran had operated 164 centrifuges, producing the first stage of nuclear fuel.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei is due in Iran this week. Rafsanjani said that ElBaradei would see the new developments during his visit.
Ahmadinejad said that Iran had completed its first enrichment two days ago.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's nuclear program, said that Iranian scientists had succeeded in enriching uranium to a concentration of 3.5 percent.
Ahmadinejad, who is on a tour of Iran's provinces, said on Tuesday that his country would soon join the world's nuclear technology club. He declared that the "equation would change for the good of the Iranian people," media reports said.
On Monday, the Iranian president said that the international community knew it could not "deprive the Iranian nation of its right by exerting political pressure." He made it clear that Tehran would not "retreat" from what it considers to be its rights.
Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said the significance of the development is that Iran has "moved into a new stage," which should concern the international community.
Iran has not produced enough fuel to make a nuclear bomb yet, Kam said. But if the nation's rulers are telling the truth, they now control the technology to enrich uranium.
Kam estimated it would take several thousand centrifuges to make enough uranium for a bomb, but it is not complicated once they possess the technology, he said. Within two to three years, Iran could possess enough material to produce a bomb, he said.
The fact that they did not hesitate to make Tuesday's announcement also reflects the new kind of leadership in Ahmadinejad and shows they don't care what other countries think, Kam added.
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