TEHRAN, Iran — Iran claimed Wednesday it has achieved two major advances in its program to master production of nuclear fuel, a defiant move in response to Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
Iranian officials also indicated they were on the verge of imposing an oil embargo on European countries to retaliate for the sanctions.
State TV quoted Foreign Ministry official Hasan Tajik as saying that six European diplomats were summoned Wednesday and told that Iran has no problem replacing customers — an implied warning that Tehran would carry out plans to cut off European Union countries immediately to preempt sanctions set to go into effect in July.
Iranian officials say an immediate cutoff will hit European nations before they can line up new suppliers, and that Tehran has already found buyers for the 18 percent share of its oil that goes to Europe.
U.S. experts say Iranian leaders are responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the tightening of sanctions by the West.
"These are all facets of the same message," said Muhammad Sahimi, an analyst and professor at the University of Southern California. "Iran is saying, 'If you hit us, we will hit back, and we are not going to sacrifice our nuclear program.' "
Tensions have been mounting with Israel and the United States over Iran's nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at producing weapons technology. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is intended solely for research and generating electricity.
Israel has increasingly warned of the possibility of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities and has accused Iran of being behind attempted attacks on Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and elsewhere. Iran denies any role in the attacks, which have resembled recent bombing-assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad oversaw the insertion of the first Iranian made fuel rod into a research reactor in northern Tehran, the country's official IRNA news agency reported. "I hope we reach the point where we will be able to meet all our nuclear needs inside the country so we won't need to reach out to others," Ahmadinejad said.
Information from New York Times was used in this report.