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Khamenei: Iran needs nuclear energy

Country's top leader says Iran wants to be ready when oil and gas reserves run out.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published February 18, 2007


TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's top leader said Saturday the country's oil and gas reserves will eventually dry up and defended the drive to produce nuclear fuel, claiming it was the only way to avoid depending on the West for energy.

"Oil and gas reserves won't last forever. If a nation doesn't think of producing its future energy needs, it will be dependent on domination-seeking powers," state television quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.

Iran produces 4.2-million barrels of oil per day, the second-largest exporter of crude among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, and possesses the world's second-biggest natural gas reserves in the world.

The United States and its European allies have disputed Iran's nuclear program - which Tehran says is only for fuel-producing purposes, and not nuclear bomb-making.

Iran's officials have argued they need alternative energy sources for when oil reserves run out and say they see no reason some of mankind's most advanced technology should be off limits.

Tehran plans to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next two decades.

Khamenei said those who say Iran does not need nuclear technology are "shallow-minded."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that Iran has achieved full proficiency in nuclear technology. However, the president said the nation's nuclear advances will only gradually be made public, in the course of the next two months.

Last February, Iran announced it has enriched uranium for the first time using two cascades of 164 centrifuges, a sophisticated technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel or materials for a nuclear bomb.

Iran was last week expected to announce the start of the installation of 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, central Iran. This, however, did not happen, leading to speculation the hookup was delayed or that Tehran sought to avoid the political ramifications of such an announcement.

In late December, the U.N. Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to halt the enrichment program. It also issued a binding resolution Dec. 23, demanding Iran stop enrichment within 60 days or face more sanctions.

Iran plans to install up to 54,000 centrifuges in all, which would allow for larger-scale enrichment that would produce enough nuclear fuel to run a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant for a year.

Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel even at the risk of sanctions but has offered guarantees that it will not make a bomb.