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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Says It's Joined Nuclear Club

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran has successfully enriched uranium for the first time, a landmark in its quest to develop nuclear fuel, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday, insisting his country did not aim to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in a nationally televised speech, Ahmadinejad called on the West "not to cause an everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians" by trying to force Iran to abandon uranium enrichment.

The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment activity by April 28. Iran has rejected the demand, saying it has a right to develop the process. The head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is due in Iran this week for talks to try to resolve the standoff.

"At this historic moment, with the blessings of God Almighty and the efforts made by our scientists, I declare here that the laboratory-scale nuclear fuel cycle has been completed and young scientists have produced enriched uranium needed to the degree for nuclear power plants Sunday," Ahmadinejad said.

"I formally declare that Iran has joined the club of nuclear countries," he told an audience that included top military commanders and clerics in the northwestern holy city of Mashhad.

The crowd broke into cheers of "Allahu akbar" or "God is great," with some standing and thrusting their fists in the air.

Ahmadinejad said Iran "relies on the sublime beliefs that lie within the Iranian and Islamic culture. Our nation does not get its strength from nuclear arsenals."

He said Iran wanted to operate its nuclear program under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and within its rights and regulations under the regulations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The announcement does not mean Iran is immediately capable of producing enough fuel to run or a reactor or develop the material needed for a nuclear warhead. Uranium enrichment can produce either, but it must be carried out on a much larger scale, using thousands of centrifuges.

Iran succeeded in enriching uranium to a level needed for fuel on a research scale -- using 164 centrifuges, officials said.

But the breakthrough underlined how difficult it will be for the West to convince Iran to give up enrichment.

Ahmadinejad made the announcement in a richly appointed hall in one of Iran's holiest cities in a ceremony clearly aimed at proclaiming to the Iranian public their country's nuclear success.

Speaking before the president, Iran's nuclear chief -- Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh -- told the audience that Iran had produced 110 tons of uranium gas, the feedstock that is pumped into centrifuges for enrichment.

The amount is nearly twice the 60 tons of uranium hexaflouride, or UF-6, gas that Iran said last year that it had produced.

Aghazadeh said Iran plans to expand its enrichment program to be able to use 3,000 centrifuges by the end of the year.

The United States and some in Europe accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, an accusation Tehran denies, saying it intends only to generate electricity.

The IAEA is due to report to the UN Security Council on April 28 whether Iran has met its demand for a full halt to uranium enrichment. If Tehran has not complied, the council will consider the next step. The U.S. and Europe are pressing for sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China have so far opposed.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the Iranians' announcement "shows that they're not paying any attention to what the Security Council has said."

In London, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office recalled that Iran was under Security Council orders to "resume full and sustained suspension of all its enrichment." "The latest Iranian statement is not particularly helpful," the spokesman said.