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U.N. Says Iran Plans Nuclear Development

Associated Press | January 26, 2007

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) - Iran expects to start installing thousands of centrifuges in an underground facility next month, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Friday. The installation would pave the way to large-scale uranium enrichment, a potential way of making nuclear weapons.

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mohamed ElBaradei said: "I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000 centrifuge facility ... sometime next month."

He did not elaborate. But U.N. officials, who demanded anonymity because the information was confidential, emphasized that Iran had not officially said it would embark on the assembly of what will initially be 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz. But they said senior officials have informally told the International Atomic Energy Agency the work would begin next month.

Iran ultimately plans to expand its enrichment program to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material to produce nuclear fuel. That would give it the capacity to produce dozens of nuclear warheads a year, if it chose to develop weapons.

Diplomats briefed on the IAEA's latest findings said earlier this month the Iranians recently finished all pre-assembly work at their Natanz facility, which is underground as protection against attack. And senior Iranian officials have repeatedly said recently that large-scale installation work at Natanz would begin soon.

But the comments by the U.N. officials were the first independent confirmation that the Iranians had informed the IAEA - the U.N. nuclear monitor - of such plans, even if informally.

Separately, Iran said Friday it would bar all IAEA inspectors from countries that voted for the Security Council sanctions agreed on last month in response to Tehran's refusal to heed a council deadline to suspend enrichment.

The announcement came after Iran said it had rejected 38 names from an IAEA list of inspectors, insisting it had the right to approve individual members of the teams.

"Inspectors from countries behind the illogical resolution against peaceful nuclear activities of Iran will find no place in Iran if their countries do not go back to a wise and legal way," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted an unidentified Iranian diplomat as saying, referring to the sanctions resolution.

The resolution orders all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also freezes Iranian assets of 10 key companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.


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