| Updated at: 1930 PST, Saturday, January 08, 2011|
TEHRAN: Atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi declared in a report on Saturday that Iran is now capable of making its own nuclear fuel plates and rods, technology the West says the Islamic republic does not possess.
Salehi, the driving force behind Iran's contentious atomic programme, said the country has completed the construction of a facility in the central city of Isfahan to the fuel plates and rods which power nuclear reactors.
"We have built an advanced manufacturing unit in the Isfahan site for the fuel plates," Salehi, who is also acting foreign minister, told a local news agency in what was said to be an exclusive interview.
"A grand transformation has taken place in the production of (nuclear) plates and rods. With the completion of the unit in Isfahan, we are one of the few countries which can produce fuel rods and fuel plates."
Salehi said it was the Western policies towards the Islamic republic which had propelled its nuclear achievements, including the making of nuclear plates and rods.
"This is in fact because of West's actions that we came to this point," he said.
"What we say is based on reality and truth. There is no exaggeration or deception in our work. It is them who do not want to believe that Iran has no intention, but to obtain nuclear technology for peaceful purposes."
The West led by the United States suspects that Iran's nuclear programme masks a weapons drive, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.
On November 23, Salehi had told state news agency IRNA that Iran would produce the nuclear fuel required for a research reactor in Tehran by September 2011.
"By the month of Shahrivar next year (September 2011), we will produce fuel for the reactor," said Salehi, who is also one of Iran's vice presidents.
Western powers have repeatedly said Iran does not possess the technology to make the actual nuclear fuel plates required to power the Tehran research reactor which makes medical isotopes.
In February 2010, Iran started refining uranium to 20 percent with the purpose of using it to make the plates that could power the reactor.
That came amid a deadlock with world powers over a nuclear fuel swap deal drafted by the UN atomic watchdog and aimed at providing fuel for the research unit.
Salehi told Iran has now produced nearly 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of uranium enriched to the 20-percent level, despite Western calls for Tehran to suspend the work.
"We have nearly 40 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium," he said in the interview.
The Islamic republic is under four sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, the process at the centre of fears about Iran's atomic work.
Enriched uranium can be used as fuel to power nuclear reactors as well as to make the fissile core of an atom bomb.
Salehi's latest declaration comes ahead of the next round of talks in Istanbul between Iran and the six world powers over Tehran's nuclear programme.
On Friday, an aide to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks could resume from January 20.
"It's a tentative date we're looking at... We have positive feedback from Iran," Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said, adding the talks were expected to last one and half days.
A previous round of talks between Iran and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- spearheaded by Ashton, took place in Geneva on December 6-7.
That round followed a 14-month hiatus in the talks on Iran's nuclear programme.