Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced that Tehran has already produced the first batch of uranium enriched to a 20 per cent level.

At a mammoth rally of supporters on Thursday at the iconic Azadi square in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said Iran would soon treble the production of 20 per cent enriched uranium, needed for producing medical isotopes to treat cancer patients. He added that Iran had developed the capacity to carry out enrichment to an 80 per cent level. Hundreds of thousands of pro-government supporters had earlier marched through Tehran to assemble for the rally, held to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.

“The first batch of 20 per cent [enriched uranium] fuel was produced,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. He added: “Right now in Natanz [enriching facilities], we have the capability to enrich 20 per cent and 80 per cent [uranium], but since we don’t need it, we don’t enrich [to that grade],” he said. The announcement comes amid suspicions in the West that Iran is pursuing development of nuclear weapons, which require highly enriched uranium refined above the 90 per cent level mark.

Mr. Ahmadinejad stressed that Tehran was not pursuing an atomic weapons programme. “We don’t build bombs....If our nation wants to build bombs, it has the courage to announce it openly and make it with no fear from you.” He added that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been supervising the entire range of the nuclear programme.

Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed assertions that Iran was incapable of producing medical isotopes on its own. “Some of them [in the West] said that you don’t produce radio medicine. They said that they will sell it to us.... [But] we say we will produce the medicine and you buy it from us.”

The rally was held under tight security amid fears that the opposition, which has been campaigning against the results of the June 12 presidential elections, may stage anti-government protests. Despite the heavy police presence, sporadic clashes involving the security forces and the opposition have been reported. Police lobbed teargas shells and physically prevented opposition heavyweight Mehdi Karoubi from participating in a rally. Unconfirmed reports also said the police restrained the former President, Mohammad Khatami. Mr. Khatami’s brother and his wife were detained, but later released.

The government rally followed the announcement of fresh sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by the United States. Sanctions were declared against General Rostam Qasemi, head of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the IRGC’s engineering wing. Others targeted include Fater Engineering Institute, Imensazen Consultant Engineers Institute, Makin Institute and Rahab Institute, which are “owned or controlled by, or that act on behalf of, Khatam al-Anbiya,” said the U.S. Treasury Department.

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