(Updates with analyst comment, upcoming elections in 13th and 14th paragraphs.)
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement that he will soon unveil a “major” nuclear development may be part of a strategy he’s employed since 2006 of promising breakthroughs and delivering incremental gains.
Ahmadinejad, 55, said during a Feb. 11 ceremony marking the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that he will unveil “major nuclear accomplishments” in the coming days, the state- run Press TV news channel reported.
Ahmadinejad, who was first elected in 2005, has repeatedly dangled the prospect of nuclear leaps to invigorate his followers and intimidate countries that he says threaten Iran. The president said in April 2006 that Iran had joined the “nuclear club” of countries with nuclear technology. In January 2010, he promised to announce nuclear news “so sweet” it would “please all the Iranian people.”
Iran likes “to play games with its opponents and keep them slightly off balance” in its foreign policy, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
Ahmadinejad is seeking to garner support from the part of Iran’s population that considers the nation “a regional superpower that deserves nuclear energy to help its economy grow while it’s under attack from countries in the West and more and more sanctions are piled against it,” Karasik said.
During his two four-year terms, the Iranian government has sought to turn the country’s nuclear program into a source of pride for the population and a symbol of independence and resistance in the face of pressure from abroad.
Ahmadinejad’s comment comes at a time of heightened rhetoric over the nuclear program. Israeli leaders, who accuse Iran of working toward a nuclear weapon, say time is running out for a military strike that could stop the Islamic Republic from reaching that goal. President Barack Obama told NBC News on Feb. 5 that “our preferred solution is diplomatic, but we’re not going to take any actions off the table.”
In the past six years, Iran has started its first nuclear power plant, making Iran the first country in the Middle East to have a nuclear-power generating facility. Officials have said the 1,000-megawatt plant will start operating at full capacity during this month.
Iran has also gone from enriching uranium from a 3.5 percent purity level to 20 percent, which it says it needs to fuel a Tehran research reactor that produces medical isotopes.
Enriched uranium can be used to fuel a nuclear power reactor, or it can be enriched further to a concentration of 90 percent to build nuclear weapons. Iran’s enrichment activities have raised the concerns of the U.S. and its allies about the true intention of the work.
Iran’s known enrichment facilities, including the Fordo fortified nuclear site, are under surveillance from the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which hasn’t cited evidence that enriched uranium has been diverted to military use.
Western nations have tightened economic and financial sanctions against Iran, adding to pressure on its economy and helping prompt a run on the currency in recent weeks.
In the current economic climate in Iran, it’s unclear whether Ahmadinejad may derive more popular support by adopting an appeasing tone when it comes to the country’s nuclear program or a more aggressive one, said Geneive Abdo, director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation in Washington D.C.
His announcement “will be framed in a way to make sure he maintains the sustainability of his faction ahead of the parliamentary elections,” scheduled March 2, Abdo said.
European Union foreign ministers agreed on Jan. 23 to ban Iranian oil imports starting in July and to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank. Obama on Feb. 6 ordered a block on property and interests in property belonging to the Iranian government, its central bank and all Iranian financial institutions. The measures come on top of four rounds of United Nations sanctions against the country of 75 million people.
Foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Feb. 10 said threats of a military strike against the country are “empty” and that Iran has already made preparations for the “worst scenario,” state-run Mehr news agency reported. He didn’t elaborate.
If the U.S. wanted to act against Iran, it would have already done so, Salehi said, when asked to comment on remarks by U.S. officials that all options are on the table, according to Mehr.
--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland, Karl Maier.
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