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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Monday, August 21, 2006


Vienna, 21 August (AKI) - Just hours before Iran is due to give world powers its response to a package of incentives aimed at persuading the country to give up its nuclear activities, new centrifuges have been installed at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility over the past two weeks, an anonymous source at the United Nations nuclear watchdog told Adnkronos International (AKI). Meanwhile, the country's heavy water reactor at nearby Arak in central Iran "will shortly be operational," the second in command of Iran's nuclear programme, Mohammad Saidi, was quoted as saying.

Also on Monday, inspectors from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) left Iran without being granted access to its underground nuclear sites, the country's semi-official Fars agency reported. This will increase suspicions that Iran may be seeking to develop a covert nuclear weapons programme - and make inspections much harder, observers say.

In an address on state television the same day, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that Tehran will pursue its nuclear programme "with force." The country maintains its nuclear ambitions are wholly peaceful and that it has a sovereign right to develop a civilian atomic energy programme under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran on Sunday successfully tested a short-range ground-to-ground missile in the Kashan desert. The weapon, named Saegheh (thunder) has a range of 30-250 kilometres and its testing has worried the West, especially the United States.

White House spokeswoman Eily Lawrimore said Iran's ballistic missile systems are "a threat to US security," that demonstrated the country's bellicose ambitions show it intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran on Saturday began extensive surface to surface missiles testing in exercises near its borders with Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan, expected to last several weeks.

The UN Security Council has given Iran until 31 August to halt its uranium enrichment plan or face sanctions. The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany on 6 June offered Iran a package of economic, technology and diplomatic incentives, which the country's leadership has been debating whether to accept.

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