Reuters: Washington on Thursday dismissed Iranian claims of a leap forward in uranium enrichment and expressed concern that Iran appeared to have "unplugged" Google and other Internet service providers. By Ross Colvin
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington on Thursday dismissed Iranian claims of a leap forward in uranium enrichment and expressed concern that Iran appeared to have "unplugged" Google and other Internet service providers.
The White House did not comment directly on Iranian opposition reports of clashes with security forces on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"We continue to monitor events as they happen and try to get the best available information, understanding that a lot of media, Google and other Internet services, have been basically unplugged," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
Separately, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley accused Iran of imposing a "near total" blockade on the flow of information in the country, calling it a draconian step.
It was not immediately clear whether the two officials were basing their comments on media reports or independently verified information.
Any clampdown on the Internet would likely fuel tensions between Iran and the international community. The United States and its allies are moving forward with a package of sanctions to punish Iran for its defiance over its nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran that Iran was able to enrich uranium to more than 80 percent purity, but again denied Iran was seeking to build an atomic bomb.
He also said Iran had produced its first batch of higher-enriched uranium fuel, two days after Iran announced the start of the project to increase the enrichment to 20 percent from 3.5 percent.
White House spokesman Gibbs rejected Ahmadinejad's assertions, saying Iran had "made a series of statements that are … based on politics not on physics."
"The Iranian nuclear program has undergone a series of problems throughout the year. Quite frankly what Ahmadinejad says … he says many things and many of them turn out to be untrue," he said.
"We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching."
Gibbs said Iran's resistance to a fuel swap deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency fueled suspicions about the intent of its nuclear program, which Iran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
He said Washington and its allies were looking at a phased approach to imposing new sanctions on Iran, including a U.N. Security Council resolution.
The United States and the other permanent members of the council — Russia, China, Britain and France — have not yet agreed on the way forward. China, which has close economic ties to Iran, has stood apart from the other major powers in calling new sanctions premature.
"This a process that has a ways to go before we have consensus with the Chinese," a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We think the Chinese, at the end of the day, are not going to want to be separated from the P5+1," he said, referring to the five Security Council members and Germany.
"They understand they have responsibilities. They don't want to see a nuclear Iran, but their enthusiasm for strong sanctions is clearly less than the other members."
The State Department's Crowley said a diplomatic solution with Iran was still possible but that Tehran's unwillingness to "engage constructively" had led Washington and its allies to consider pressuring it with further sanctions.
He said the Iranian government's apparent decision to restrict Iranians' access to the Internet could backfire.
"When a government goes to the extraordinary step of taking down its phone network, both, you know, landlines and mobile, and when it takes down its satellite television capability, it's not only jeopardizing its relationships with those who seek a different kind of relationship with government, they are probably also alienating their supporters as well."
Google said it had experienced a sharp drop in e-mail traffic in Iran and that some users in the country were having trouble accessing its Gmail e-mail service.
An Obama administration official said Google had not approached the U.S. government about any problems with its service in Iran.
Microsoft said the company had not experienced any disruptions to its Hotmail e-mail service in Iran.