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Iran is defying United Nations, says IAEA

International Atomic Energy Agency reports substantial advancement in uranium enrichment by Iran, which could lead to harsher UN sanctions.

world Updated: May 24, 2007 13:27 IST

Iran is making substantial advances in uranium enrichment in defiance of world demands, UN monitors said on Wednesday, opening the way to harsher sanctions against Tehran over fears it is seeking atom bombs.

The findings in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came on the day when nine US warships sailed into the Gulf for maneuvers to display American impatience with Tehran, which it also accuses of backing insurgents in Iraq.

Iran ignored another 60-day deadline for it to freeze enrichment set by the UN Security Council when it imposed a second set of sanctions on March 24, and was still blocking IAEA inquiries into the full scope of its program, the report said.

Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities. Iran has continued with operation of its pilot fuel enrichment plant and with construction of its (planned industrial) enrichment plant," said the report, obtained by Reuters.

Iran had installed 1,640 centrifuges to enrich uranium and was injecting uranium "UF6" gas into some 1,300 of them running simultaneously, it said. This marked significant progress towards a basis for a nuclear fuel industry after the shift from a research-level program a few months ago.

"You see from these numbers that Iran is starting to feed substantial amounts of uranium and are able to maintain this feed, showing they are able to enrich," said a senior UN official familiar with the report.

In response, Iran said it remained committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the West suspects it is violating by using a declared civilian nuclear program as a facade for mastering the means to build warheads.

Iran, which had already said it was expanding uranium enrichment, says it seeks to use nuclear technology only for power generation. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear power plants or, if refined to a much higher degree, for bombs.

Six world powers stand behind UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iran suspend all nuclear fuel work in exchange for negotiations on trade incentives, with the threat of escalating sanctions if Tehran keeps refusing.

MORE SANCTIONS?

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not comment directly on the IAEA report, but said Iran appeared to be doing everything it could to isolate itself, pointing to two U.N. sanctions resolutions already passed against Tehran.

"How can the world believe Iran's claims that its pursuits are peaceful if Iran's leaders increasingly withhold information and cooperation from the world's nuclear watchdog?" said Gregory Schulte, US ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA.

US officials had said the powers would start drafting a third, harsher batch of sanctions if the deadline was flouted.
But a senior European diplomat at the Security Council said "I don't think we'll rush at it". He said he expected the Council to await the outcome of high-level exploratory talks on the nuclear issue between the EU and Iran next week.

Washington sent nine US warships into the Gulf, a narrow channel in international waters off Iran's coast and a crucial artery for global oil shipments. Oil rose towards $70 on world markets, partly on news of the force's arrival.

The US navy said the ships, including two aircraft carriers, would conduct exercises under a long-planned effort to reassure local Arab allies of US commitment to Gulf security.

In response, Iran said it would powerfully resist any threat from Washington. The U.S. has said it is committed to a diplomatic solution but has not rule out military intervention.

However IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said last week the Western strategy of denying Iran enrichment capability was obsolete as Iran had already gained it.

He said world powers should focus on capping Iran's enrichment short of "industrial scale", a level he feels would pose a minimal risk of yielding atomic bombs.

A senior US official on Wednesday dismissed the proposal, which Western experts believe would allow Iran to perfect enrichment technology and divert it to clandestine bombmaking.

Another official said the IAEA's grasp of the scope of Iran's nuclear plans was deteriorating due to increased restrictions on inspector movements over the past 18 months.

This program is progressing without the necessary verification measures in place. That is a proliferation concern as centrifuge numbers rise into the thousands," he said.