President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed Thursday that Iran has produced its first batch of uranium enriched to a higher level, saying his country will not be bullied by the West into curtailing its nuclear program a day after the US imposed new sanctions.
Ahmadinejad reiterated to hundreds of thousands of cheering Iranians on the anniversary of the 1979 foundation of the Islamic republic that the country was now a "nuclear state," an announcement he's made before. He insisted that Iran had no intention of building nuclear weapons.
It was not clear how much enriched material had actually been produced just two days after the process was announced to have started.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Tehran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to build nuclear weapons but Tehran denies the charge, saying the program is just geared toward generating electricity.
"I want to announce with a loud voice here that the first package of 20 percent fuel was produced and provided to the scientists," he said.
Enriching uranium produces fuel for a nuclear power plants but can also be used to create material for atomic weapons if enriched further to 90 percent or more.
"We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent but we don't enrich (to this level) because we don't need it," he said in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Iran announced Tuesday it was beginning the process of enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. The international community reacted by discussing the imposition of new UN sanctions.
The US Treasury Department went ahead on Wednesday and froze the assets in US jurisdictions of a Revolutionary Guard general and four subsidiaries of a construction firm he runs for their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction.
Tehran has said it wants to further enrich the uranium, which is still substantially below the 90 percent plus level used in the fissile core of nuclear warheads, as a part of a plan to fuel its research reactor that provides medical isotopes to hundreds of thousands of Iranians undergoing cancer treatment.
But the West says Tehran is not capable of turning the material into the fuel rods needed by the reactor. Instead it fears that Iran wants to enrich the uranium to make nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad restated Iran's position that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons.
"When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb," he told the crowd. "If we wanted to manufacture a bomb, we would announce it."
"We told them the Iranian nation will never give in to bullying and illogical remarks," Ahmadinejad added.
Ahmadinejad addresses Tehran rally (Photo: AFP)
Western powers blame Tehran for rejecting an internationally endorsed plan to defuse the situation by having Iran export its low enriched uranium for enrichment abroad and returned as fuel rods for the Tehran reactor.
Iran, in turn, asserts it had no choice but to start enriching to higher levels because its suggested changes to the international plan were rejected.
The president said Iran will triple the production of its low-enriched uranium in the future but didn't elaborate.
"God willing, daily production (of low enriched uranium) will be tripled," he said.
A confidential document from the UN nuclear agency shared Wednesday with The Associated Press said Iran's initial effort at higher enrichment is modest, using only a small amount of feedstock and a fraction of its capacities.
Also on Thursday, Iranian security forces clashed with opposition supporters when huge crowds flocked to central Tehran to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
State television showed live footage of hundreds of thousands of people, some carrying Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, walking to Azadi (freedom) Square in central Tehran.
An Iranian opposition website, Iran's Green Voice, said security forces fired shots and teargas at supporters of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi staging a rally in central Tehran.
The opposition website Jaras said security forces attacked opposition leader Mehdi Karoubi and moderate former president Mohammad Khatami when they attended the rally.
Neither side has shown much appetite for compromise in the eight months since the disputed June presidential vote, which the opposition says was rigged to secure Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election.
The Islamic state is facing its worst domestic crisis in three decades as opposition supporters have rallied round the reformists who lost to Ahmadinejad in the election.
An Iranian opposition website said security forces briefly detained a granddaughter of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and her husband on Thursday.
The opposition Jaras werbsite said Zahra Eshraqi and her husband Mohammad Reza Khatami -- a brother of former president Khatami -- were detained during rallies marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. They were later freed, it said.
The reformist Parlemannews website said they were not detained, but prevented from joining the crowd for their own security and later allowed to go.
Reuters and AP contributed to the report