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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Iran Started New Uranium Enrichment Days Ahead Of Deadline Report Diplomats

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE | Thu, August 31st, 2006, 12:26

Vienna: Iran started a new round of enriching uranium only days ahead of the United Nations deadline on Thursday for it to stop the strategic nuclear fuel work or face possible sanctions, diplomats told AFP.

"They put in small quantities of (feedstock) uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas last week," into a cascade line of 164 centrifuges in Natanz which enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the UN-watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday.

A second diplomat, who like the first asked not to be named, said the Iranians were doing this "to underscore the point that they are not going to stop enrichment-related activities."

The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities by August 31, amid US-led concerns that Tehran's nuclear programme is a cover for an attempt to produce an atomic bomb.

Six world powers have also proposed talks on Iran receiving trade, technology and security benefits if it suspends enrichment.

Uranium enrichment makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but in highly refined form can serve as the raw material for atom bombs.

The diplomat said the amount of UF6 gas being fed was very small, "under 10 kilos", and that the work was continuing this week.

IAEA inspectors were in Iran as late as Wednesday. The UN watchdog is expected to confirm in a report Thursday that Iran has failed to freeze enrichment, opening the door to possible Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said senior officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States would meet in Europe early next week to begin discussing sanctions against Iran.

But discussions on specific language for a possible UN sanctions resolution would take place at UN headquarters in New York involving US Ambassador John Bolton and his counterparts from the permanent members of the Security Council, McCormack said Wednesday.

Iran has made clear that it intends to pursue nuclear fuel work.

"Production of nuclear fuel is one of Iran's strategic objectives," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Sunday.

Russia and China are reluctant to impose sanctions, even though US officials said these two countries have promised to honor a commitment to crack down on Iran if it refuses the conditions for the international benefits package.

Diplomats have said a compromise solution was being floated to allow Iran to not actually enrich uranium but only work with "dry running" centrifuges.

But US officials have said that even spinning centrifuges dry, with inert gas for example, would help Iran move towards the so-called "break-out capacity" of having the technology needed to make nuclear weapons.

Diplomats said Iran had paused in actual enrichment until last week as it had been running centrifuges dry, without the feedstock gas.

Iran had started rounds of feeding the 164-cascade Natanz in April and in June, producing small amounts of enriched uranium, far below the quality and quantity needed for weapons, the IAEA has reported.

Iran is also running a 10-centrifuge and a 20-centrifuge cascade, as it researches techniques for using centrifuges to enrich uranium, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.

A diplomat said Iran had been feeding the cascades "periodically", even though they could have been doing this work continuously.

"They want to show that they are doing enrichment but they don't want to upset the applecart by sticking it in the face of the West," the diplomat said.

The IAEA is also expected to report Thursday that Iran is not fully cooperating with its inspections.

Iran earlier this month blocked IAEA inspectors from visiting a key underground site and diplomats said Iranian authorities are making life increasingly difficult for its investigators in other ways, even if the UN watchdog is still able to monitor the country's nuclear programme.

But one diplomat said IAEA inspectors were able this week to see the underground site at Natanz, where there are no centrifuges yet installed but which is destined to house tens of thousands of the machines.

The 164-centrifuge pilot cascade is above ground at Natanz.

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