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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Iran Steps Up Enrichment Work Despite Sanctions Threat

Tehran (AFP): Iran on Wednesday confirmed it has installed new equipment to step up uranium enrichment work despite the threat of UN sanctions over its nuclear programme, the official ISNA news agency reported. An official told the agency Iran has recently installed a second cascade of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility and would start putting gas in the equipment this week to make enriched uranium.

The announcement comes as Western countries work on a UN Security Council draft resolution that would punish Iran for its repeated refusal to halt enrichment, which the West fears could be diverted to make a nuclear bomb.

"The second cascade was installed two weeks ago and this week we are going to inject it with (uranium hexafluoride UF6) gas," the official source, which was not identified, told the agency.

"Soon after the injection of the gas we will have the product of the second cascade," the official added, referring to enriched uranium.

The United States and Western diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency had spoken of the new centrifuge cascade being developed but until now there was uncertainty over how advanced the process was.

Iran has been conducting a small-scale research enrichment programme at its plant in Natanz, in the centre of the country, where it has so far been feeding the UF6 gas into a single 164-centrifuge cascade.

Enrichment is carried out in lines of centrifuges called cascades and is used to make the fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. But in highly refined form the product can serve as the raw material for atomic weapons.

Iran's refusal to obey repeated UN deadlines to halt enrichment has left it facing the prospect of UN Security Council sanctions, with Britain, France and Germany now drawing up a draft sanctions resolution to put to the world body.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stressed on numerous occasions Iran has no intention halting its enrichment of uranium and has vowed the Islamic republic is not far from doing so on a larger scale.

Iran has plans to install 3,000 centrifuges by March 2007 and wants to develop advanced P2 centrifuges capable of making highly-enriched uranium more efficiently than the P1 technology currently in use.

The country has already announced it has succeeded in enriching uranium to almost five percent, but this is still well off the levels that would be needed to make a nuclear bomb.

The European Union tried to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment in four rounds of talks which failed to find agreement.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is solely aimed at providing energy, vehemently rejecting US accusations that it is seeking nuclear weapons.

"It is clear that Iran is moving forward, full steam ahead with its nuclear programme," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday as work gathered pace on the sanctions resolution.

According to a senior State Department official, Britain, France, Germany and the United States "are very close on the actual text of the resolution" on Iran's nuclear programme.

But it remains to be seen what stance will be taken on the draft by permanent UN Security Council members Russia and China, both economic allies of Iran and traditionally reluctant to approve sanctions.

Russia's case is particularly sensitive, as Moscow is working on building Iran's first nuclear power station in Bushehr in the south, a long-delayed project now expected to be completed in September 2007.

Iranian Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini warned earlier this week Iran would take "appropriate measures" in retaliation for any sanctions over its nuclear work.
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