The White House says Iran is lashing out at the world to "distract attention" from the damage that international sanctions are having at home.
Iran is claiming Wednesday that it has achieved two major advances in its program to master production of nuclear fuel, a defiant move in response to increasingly tough Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.
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Iranstate media also reports steps to cut oil exports to six European countries in retaliation for new European Union sanctions, including a ban on Iranian oil.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called these "provocative acts, defiant acts, statements that are designed to distract attention from the demonstrated impact that the sanctions are having, the demonstrated impact that the isolation of Iran is having."
"We are very confident that the sanctions have put enormous pressure on the Iranian economy and on the Iranian regime," he told reporters. "It is not unusual for Iran to try to distract attention from those uncomfortable facts and from its overall isolation by some burst of rhetoric or making some announcement."
Scientists explain new procedure to Ahmadinejad (Photo: AFP)
The US also downplayed Iran's latest announcement of nuclear progress, saying Tehran's reported advances were "not terribly new and not terribly impressive."
"We frankly don't see a lot new here. This is not big news. In fact it seems to have been hyped," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"The Iranians have for many months been putting out calendars of accomplishments, and based on their own calendars, they are many, many months behind," she said.
Iran ready to resume talks?
Meanwhile, Iran has told world powers it is ready to resume talks as soon as possible over its disputed nuclear program, according to a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, an offer that could reflect its difficulty in coping with tough US and European sanctions, or amount to another delaying tactic as it moves ahead with activities that could bring it closer to developing an atomic bomb.
The letter from chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was sent Tuesday, just a day before Iran claimed two major advances in producing nuclear fuel and indicated it was on the verge of imposing an oil embargo on European countries to retaliate for sanctions. The Obama administration dismissed the announcements as unimpressive and said Tehran's erratic behavior was indicative of the squeeze it is feeling as a result of hard-hitting economic measures against it.
"We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues which can provide ground for constructive and forward looking cooperation," Jalili wrote in the letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the point of contact for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, who are demanding that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment.
Ashton had written Jalili in October, offering Iran a new round of talks toward an agreement that "restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Jalili welcomed Ashton's statement of respect for Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy use and said that "by committing to this approach, our talks for cooperation based on step-by-step principles and reciprocity on Iran's nuclear issue could be commenced," according to a translated copy of the letter.
A "constructive and positive attitude towards Islamic Republic of Iran's new initiatives in this round of talks could open (a) positive perspective for our negotiation," Jalili wrote. "Therefore, within this context, I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility, in a mutually agreed venue and time."
Asked about Jalili's letter to Ashton, Nuland said the US was speaking with its partners about it. Hinting at the contents of the Iranian response, however, she said: "It may be that they felt the need to bluster on their nuclear side even as they make clear that they do want to come back to the table for talks."
'Iran in midst of arms race'
Also Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said that the "Iranian Ayatollahs regime is in the midst of an arms race and is trying to hit Israeli and Western targets around the world."
He added, "We are committed to staying vigilant and watchful, ready to face any challenge."
Earlier on Wednesday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Iran has started using 3,000 new centrifuges at the Natantz reactor. Dressed in a white coat, Ahmadinejad watched scientists load Iran-made iron rods into the reactor. "The age of bullying nations is over," he declared.
"The arrogant powers cannot retain a monopoly on nuclear technology. They tried to stop us by declaring sanctions but failed. We shall continue to pursue our nuclear way," he said.
Maor Buchnik contributed to this report
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