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Iran unveils N-progress, deepens rift with US-EU

world Updated: Feb 16, 2012 01:44 IST

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Iran on Wednesday announced new strides in nuclear programme, including centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster, in a defiant blow to US and EU pressure to rein in its atomic activities and amid signs of an increasingly vicious covert war with Israel over the issue.

The move came on the day when Israel’s ambassador to Thailand Itzhak Shoham linked the Bangkok blasts to the one in New Delhi — in which wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured — and blamed both on Iran, which denied the charge.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on state TV what was said to be Iran’s first domestically produced 20% enriched nuclear fuel for Tehran’s research reactor. He said Iran had added 3,000 more centrifuges to boost its uranium enrichment effort. And he ordered Iran to “go build” four more research reactors.

Iranian officials said the new generation centrifuges at Natanz would produce three times more enriched uranium. The developments underlined Tehran’s determination to forge ahead with its nuclear activities despite increasingly tough sanctions — and speculation that Israel or the US could be months from launching military strikes against it.

“The era of bullying nations has past. The arrogant powers cannot monopolise nuclear technology...,” Ahmadinejad said. “Our nuclear path will continue.”

However, Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television said the government had handed a letter to the EU foreign policy chief expressing readiness to "hold new talks over its nuclear programme in a constructive way".

Israel, which is the region's sole but undeclared nuclear power and feels its existence is threatened by a nuclear Iran, is widely held to have been carrying out clandestine acts against its arch foe.

Those acts have included the murder of four Iranian scientists and the deployment of a computer virus, Stuxnet, which damaged many of Iran's centrifuges. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.

Iran denied a state media report that it had cut off oil exports to six European Union states. Brent crude oil prices jumped up $1 a barrel to $118.35 in reaction to the announcement.