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Iran flies nuclear flag in US face

April 11: Iran defied the might of the United States today to declare itself a nuclear-power state, creating trouble for India in more ways than one.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had joined the group of countries possessing nuclear technology and was determined to achieve industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

It its first reaction, the US said Iran was “moving in the wrong direction” with its nuclear programme and if it persisted, Washington would discuss possible next steps with the UN Security Council.

“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 in a televised address.

“Based on international regulations, we will continue our path until we achieve production of industrial-scale enrichment,” he said, adding that the West must respect Iran’s right to peaceful atomic technology.

The announcement means problems for India and its deal with the US, under which President George W. Bush has committed cooperation in civilian nuclear power. But the deal can be implemented only after the US Congress passes an amendment to the country’s atomic energy law.

Opinion is divided in Congress on the nuclear deal with opponents seeing it as a reward for New Delhi for acting like a rogue state.

India had tested nuclear bombs in violation of international regulations and has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, acts being cited by the deal’s opponents in the US who might now find fresh ammunition in Iran’s act of defiance.

Iran has cited the US concession to India, which has in the past done much the same thing it is now being accused of ' developing nuclear weapons technology on the sly ' contrasting it with the threat of international sanctions being held out against it.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Washington would “be talking about the way forward with the other members of the Security Council and Germany about how to address this” if Iran continued to move in its current direction.

The US says Iran’s nuclear programme is a cover for developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists it is for civilian purposes.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said earlier that Iran had enriched uranium to a level used in nuclear power plants.

Iran’s announcement is a serious setback to Security Council efforts to have Tehran halt enrichment. It could escalate a confrontation with Western powers leading to consideration of sanctions.

When it comes to that, India will face its second problem ' whether to side with the Western powers against Iran.

Already there is tension between the Manmohan Singh-led coalition and its allies, the Left, over the deal with the US and voting with Washington against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency. That strain could reach bursting point if India were forced to support sanctions against Iran.

Tehran’s announcement follows reports in the US media of plans being made in Washington for a military attack on Iran, though Bush has called them “wild speculation”.

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