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U.N. agency reports on Iran's nuclear work

Associated Press
Published February 28, 2006

VIENNA - Iran appears determined to expand its uranium enrichment program - a key international concern because of fears it could eventually make nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

The U.N. watchdog, in a confidential report made available Monday to the Associated Press, said Iran plans to start setting up thousands of uranium enriching centrifuges this year even as it negotiates with Russia on scrapping such domestic activity.

The IAEA also suggested that unless Iran drastically increases its cooperation, the agency would not be able to establish whether past clandestine activities were focused on making nuclear arms.

The report, prepared by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei for an upcoming meeting Monday of the agency's 35-nation board of governors, could help determine what action the U.N. Security Council will take against Iran, which says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.

The 11-page report emphasized that more than three years of investigations have not revealed "any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Still, it declared that - because of lack of sufficient cooperation from the Iranian side - the IAEA remained unable "to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran."

The evidence of Iran's intention to embark on full-scale uranium enrichment appeared to jibe with news of lack of progress in talks between Moscow and Tehran meant to move Iran's nuclear enrichment program to Russia, thereby defusing concerns it might be misused to make nuclear warheads instead of fuel.

Earlier in the day, Russian officials played down reports of a deal in principle on the Russian proposal, reminding Tehran it must freeze its domestic uranium enrichment.

But the report made available Monday showed Iran pressing ahead with enrichment at home by going from testing a lone centrifuge - a machine that spins uranium gas into enriched uranium - to introducing the gas into 10 centrifuges and beginning enrichment this month.

Furthermore, said the report, Iran began final maintenance of an additional 20 centrifuges a week ago.

That would leave Iran still far short of the thousands of centrifuges needed to enrich substantial amounts of uranium. Still, it reflected Iran's plans to forge ahead with domestic enrichment even as it talks with Moscow. And "commencement of the installation of the first 3,000 ... (centrifuges) is planned for the fourth quarter of 2006," the report said.

[Last modified February 28, 2006, 00:36:03]

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