The news surrounding the expansion of the uranium enrichment program in the country dominated the coverage in the Iranian media. President Ahmadinejad announced a technical “breakthrough” in Iran’s abilities to start thousands of uranium enriching centrifuges at Natanz nuclear facility. Ahmadinejad said that Iran will defend its nuclear program “to the end.” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator discounted doubts expressed over Iran’s achievement and said that Iran will have more than 50,000 centrifuges in place within two years. On regional issues, Iran threatened a boycott of Sharm Al Sheikh conference on Iraq. The foreign ministry said that that if the five Iranian nationals held by the US forces in Iraq are not released beforehand, Iran might not attend the conference.
Iran Nuclear Program
· Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran resists to the end in defending its right to enrich uranium on its soil; he warned that Iran will reveal new developments in the nuclear field if the West pressures UN to impose new sanctions against Iran.
· Iran’s Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, Reza Aghazadeh, said Iran will install 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz uranium enrichment facility within the next two years; Aghazadeh also said that 3,000 centrifuges are already installed and are operational in Natanz.
· The EU announced its willingness to restart negotiations with Iran to resolve the nuclear standoff; Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, also said that a positive atmosphere has been created allowing Iran to restart negotiations; Larijani said, however, that Iran would in no way accept the suspension of its uranium enrichment program.
· The government announced that it will build two new nuclear reactors.
· Iran restarted its negotiations with the Russia over the completion of Bushehr nuclear reactor; the Russian contractor had stopped work on the plant citing financial issues.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· Iran might not attend the foreign ministers conference on Iraq which is scheduled to be held in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt on May 3rd; Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that if the five Iranians held by US forces in Iraq are not released beforehand, Iran might boycott the conference.
· Jalal Sharafi, the Iranian diplomat assigned to the Embassy in Baghdad, said that the CIA integrators tortured him while he was in their detention; Sharafi said he was kidnapped by Iraqi uniformed officers while exiting a bank building in Baghdad; Iranian television stations showed images of Sharafi’s wounds.
· The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he is hopeful that the five Iranians being held by the US forces will be freed soon; Mottaki said he has received signals that the US will release the detainees in the coming days; he did not elaborate on the signals.
· The Intelligence Minister, Mohseni Ejeie, said that the authorities have arrested more than 90 members of Jundallah organization; he said the detainees have taken part in various terrorist attacks in the province of Baluchistan; the minister of intelligence also accused Britain of encouraging terrorist activities within Iran; he said the British were aiding terrorist groups in Khuzestan; Ejeie did not give any details on British actions in Khuzestan.
· Russian foreign ministry announced that Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Zolghadr’s recent trip to Moscow did not violate the UN sanctions against Iran; the spokesman for the foreign ministry said that the UN Security Council resolution on Iran sanctions allows limited travel by targeted Iranian officials as long as the travel plans are reported to the UN beforehand; Russia, he said, had already informed the UN of Zolghadr’s itinerary.
· Iranian media extensively covered the reports that leading members of US congress have expressed their desire to visit Iran; Chairman Lantos of the Foreign Relations Committee and speaker Pelosi has said they might consider a visit to Tehran to hold talks with Iranian officials.