Following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement Monday that the Islamic Republic had started producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, reports have circulated that as many as 3,000 centrifuges had been launched. However, Iranian information agencies denied the figure later that day citing Iranian energy and security officials as saying it was early to announce their number.
"Iran's plans regarding the uranium enrichment center in Natanz are not only confined to fixing 3,000 centrifuges, but they suggest that 50,000 such devices will be put into operation," Iranian information agency IRNA quoted Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying.
Tensions continue to grow over the Iranian nuclear program as some Western countries, particularly the U.S., suspect Tehran is pursuing a covert weapons program since it resumed uranium enrichment in January 2006. But Tehran has consistently claimed it needs nuclear power for civilian power generation and is fully entitled to its own nuclear program.
The vice president explained that he had deliberately refrained from specifying the number of centrifuges while speaking during celebrations to honor the national day of nuclear technology in Iran Monday.
"I was anxious that speculations could appear, particularly in Western media, that the Iranian nuclear program will be completed with the installation of only 3,000 centrifuges," the official said adding that equipment at the center was meant precisely for 50,000.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously March 24 to impose new sanctions against the Islamic Republic for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated Tuesday that Iran did not intend to succumb to international pressure and resume a moratorium on uranium enrichment, but that it was open to talks on its nuclear program.
"Talks on Iran's nuclear program must be serious and must have specific goals. We have already passed the stage when suspending uranium enrichment was claimed as a condition for the beginning or success of talks," the minister said.
"We think the opposite side must accept the reality [of Iran's nuclear development], and if it makes new proposals for negotiations, we are ready for clear and comprehensive talks as we have repeatedly stated," Mottaki added.
The new UN Security Council resolution was passed following Tehran's refusal to comply with the previous resolution adopted December 23, 2006.
The new resolution freezes the foreign accounts of 13 companies and 15 individuals involved in uranium enrichment and missile development projects, imposes visa restrictions and bans arms exports from Iran. It also threatens new sanctions if Iran does not comply with the resolution within 60 days, and urges the Islamic Republic to return to negotiations.