Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

January 31, 2013

Diplomats: Iran prepared to up nuclear program

VIENNA (AP) — The U.N. nuclear agency has told member nations that Iran is poised for a major technological upgrade of its uranium enrichment program, in a document seen Thursday by The Associated Press. The move would vastly speed up Tehran's ability to make material that can be used for both reactor fuel and nuclear warheads.

In an internal note to member nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it received notice last week from Iran's nuclear agency of plans to install high-technology enriching centrifuges at its main enriching site at Natanz, in central Iran. The machines are estimated to be able to enrich up to five times faster than the present equipment.

The brief note quoted Iran as saying new-generation IR2m "centrifuge machines ...will be used" to populate a new "unit" — a technical term for an assembly that can consist of as many as 3,132 centrifuges.

It gave no timeframe and a senior diplomat familiar with the issue said work had not started, adding it would take weeks, if not months, to have the new machines running once technicians started putting them in. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge confidential information.

Phone calls to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, for comment went to his voice mail.

The planned upgrade deals a further blow to international efforts to coax Tehran to restore confidence in its aims by scaling back its nuclear activities and cooperating with agency attempts to investigate allegations of secret weapons work.

It complicates planned talks next month where the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will press Tehran to cut back on enrichment. Indirectly criticizing the Iranian plan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted Thursday that Moscow and its fellow U.N. Security Council members "have called on Iran to freeze enrichment operations during the negotiations."

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