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August 28, 2009 8:16 pm
Iran has increased the number of centrifuge machines that can potentially enrich uranium for its nuclear programme, the United Nations atomic watchdog declared last night, unveiling a report that will maintain international pressure on Tehran to halt its activity.
As diplomats from the world’s leading powers prepare to meet next week to discuss the possibility of imposing fresh sanctions on Tehran, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran increased the number of centrifuges installed at its Natanz plant from 7,000 to about 8,300 between May and August of this year. The IAEA noted that the number of centrifuge machines seen in operation at the plant had fallen slightly over the same period, with about 4,600 enriching uranium earlier this month.
But the report suggested the rate at which Iran was daily producing low enriched uranium had not fallen at all since the IAEA last reported on Iran’s activities in June. It also made clear that Iran was refusing to co-operate with the UN agency.
“It’s a pretty negative report,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It acknowledges Iran’s last-minute co-operation in allowing the IAEA to verify its current activities. But Iran is refusing to provide design information that the IAEA seeks and is still stonewalling on all the questions about past activities.”
Iran has always claimed it is enriching uranium as part of a programme to create civil nuclear energy, but western powers have long suspected Tehran is aiming to build a nuclear weapon.
IAEA officials said they could not explain why the number of centrifuges operating at Natanz had fallen slightly in recent months.
● Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, yesterday called for the prosecution of reformist leaders over their alleged role in recent post-election unrest, a move that could spark fresh street protests, reports Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran.
At Friday prayers, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad for the first time said judicial and security officials should “deal seriously with the main elements behind the post-election incidents” and warned against granting them “immunity”.
His call followed similar ones by hardliners who have been pushing for the arrest of Mohammad Khatami, the former reformist president, as well as Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were candidates for the presidency in the June 12 election.
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