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Diplomats: Iran installs 600 high-tech centrifuges, boosting nuke technology

By George Jahn

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:04 a.m. HST, Apr 17, 2013


VIENNA » Technicians upgrading Iran's main uranium enrichment facility have tripled their installations of high-tech machines that could be used in a nuclear weapons program to more than 600 in the last three months, diplomats said today.

They say the machines are not yet producing enriched uranium and some may be only partially installed. Still the move is the latest sign that 10 years of diplomatic efforts have failed to persuade Tehran to curb its uranium enrichment. Instead, Iran continues to increase its capacities.

The installations also suggest that Iran possesses both the technology to mass-produce centrifuges that can enrich much faster than its present machines and the ability to evade international sanctions meant to keep it from getting materials it needs to do so.

The Islamic Republic insists it has no interest in nuclear weapons and says it's enriching uranium only for nuclear power and other non-military applications. Iran also asserts it has a right to do so under international law.

But the United States, Israel, and their allies fear Iran may use the technology to create weapons-level uranium that can be used in an atomic bomb. They base their concerns on Tehran's nuclear secrecy and suspicions they share with the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran may have worked secretly on nuclear arms.

Experts for years have suggested that the U.N. embargoes against Tehran for defying Security Council demands that it stop enrichment has left Tehran short of high-quality steel, carbon fiber and other materials needed to establish a production line of advanced centrifuges.

But the installations that began early this year and recent Iranian comments indicate the expansion has just begun.

An IAEA report in February said agency inspectors counted 180 of the advanced IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz, Tehran's main enrichment site, less than a month after Iran's Jan. 23 announcement that it would start mounting them. The report said it was unclear whether the machines were partly or completely installed.

Two diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press said while IAEA experts visiting the Iranian sites were now able to count more of the centrifuges, they remained uncertain about their operating ability because they were not permitted to get a close enough look.

One of the diplomats who spoke comes from a country critical of Iran's nuclear program while the other is considered neutral, and both spend much of their time probing Iran's nuclear activities. They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss confidential information about IAEA inspections.

A phone call for reaction to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA representative, was not returned. The IAEA said it would not comment on the diplomats' report.

The February IAEA report also said the number of other advanced centrifuge models being tested at an R&D site at Natanz separate from its enrichment plant had substantially increased to more than 300 as of February.

Iranian nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi was quoted Sunday by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying that more than 3,000 high-tech centrifuges have already been produced and will soon phase out the more than 12,000 older-generation enriching machines at Natanz.

If accurate, those numbers show that Iran has managed to outperform expectations published just two years ago. Back then David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security cited unnamed U.S. government sources estimating that raw-material shortages would likely limit production of the advanced machines to no more than 1,000.

Albright today said Iran's apparent ability to mass-produce the machines reflects its success in evading sanctions.

"At this point you have to concede that Iran probably has the material to make up to 3,000 IR2-ms," he said.

Albright, who occasionally briefs U.S. government officials on Iran's nuclear program, said much of the material appears to be coming through China from European and Japanese manufacturers. He cited non-U.S. Western government sources for his information but said he could not divulge precise nationalities.

At the present installation rate of about 200 a month, it would take 15 months from the startup date to install the 3,000 high-tech centrifuges mentioned by Abbasi. That would mean all would be in place by May 2014.

It was unclear how well the centrifuges would work, if and when they are started up. Iran has experienced persistent problems with its older machines.

The new IR-2ms are believed to be able to enrich two to five times faster than the old machines. For nations fearing that Iran may want to make nuclear arms, that would mean a quicker way of getting there.

The up-grade reflects Iranian resistance to attempts by six nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — which are trying to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program. The latest Iran-six power talks ended April 6 without progress in Almaty, Kazakhstan. That extended years of inconclusive negotiations and increased fears that the diplomatic window on reaching a deal on Iran's nuclear program may soon close.

Israel accuses Tehran of striving to make nuclear weapons and has threatened to bomb its atomic facilities to stop it from reaching that alleged goal if talks fail. The United States also has not ruled out such action as a last resort.







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allie wrote:
I fear Israel more as they have hundreds of nukes. They are also immoral in the way they are illegally occupying Palestinian land.
on April 17,2013 | 06:17AM
FWS wrote:
Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land? Where do you come up with this stuff, Ahmadinejad’s Facebook page? It’s easy to sit back in the US and tell Israel to play nice and let the Palestinians have half your country. But it’s a different story if you are living there and the Palestinians are shooting rockets shot at you every day. We had one terror attack and we are all ready to string up all those responsible (my sentiments as well). In 2012 alone, Palestinians fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel. How would we in the US handle such a scenario? Would there be any Palestinians left? Today’s problems are linked to the circumstances (wars and politics) that led to the creation of Israel. Fighting over this today serves no purpose. Instead of spending the last 60 years trying to kill their neighbors, the Palestinians would have been better served to have accepted the fait accompli and gotten on with their lives. The South will not rise again, we will not beat the North Vietnamese, Hawaii will not be given back to the Hawaiians, and Israel will not cease to exist.
on April 17,2013 | 01:04PM
hanalei395 wrote:
And the Palestinians will NOT cease to exist. And Zionist immigrants, settlers and squatters will never live in peace. While Hawaiians had their sovereignty stolen...Hawaiians still have their National Anthem and flag .... Hawai'i Pono'i, and Ka Hae Hawai'i.
on April 17,2013 | 01:51PM
FWS wrote:
"And Zionist immigrants, settlers and squatters will never live in peace." Why not? Most of those fighting today were not even alive in 1948. What is to be gained by continuing this never ending grudge match. Who wins?
on April 17,2013 | 02:15PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Zionist occupied Palestine, now called "Israel", is still importing immigrants, settlers and squatters. And more "settlements" are still being built. As long as this is still going on, the war continues.
on April 17,2013 | 03:24PM
FWS wrote:
But even during the numerous moratoriums on Israeli settlements, the Palestinian shelling continued. If I understand you correctly, you think the Israelis are illegally occupying this land and need to leave. Israel was established in 1948. Right or wrong, this is their home now and they have no place else to go. Wars were fought, blood was spilled. Maps changed. History moved on. Dwelling on the past is robbing the Palestinians of their future. They need to get over it.
on April 17,2013 | 03:47PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Right or wrong, Israel/Palestiine should go back to where it was before. Before the 1967 war. And BTW, if one's heart and soul is in his beloved country, even if it is ONLY in his heart and soul, NO ONE can "get over it". For people who didn't lose THEIR country...THEY don't get it.
on April 17,2013 | 04:18PM
FWS wrote:
Why 1967? Why not some other date? It’s an arbitrary date based on a particular war—a war Israel didn’t even start. Keeping one’s heritage and culture alive is one thing, continually struggling to reverse history is another. Would you advocate for a Palestinian ‘solution’ for the Native Americans on the US mainland? For Hawaii? Imagine how much Aloha would be left in the islands today if there had been 60 years of armed struggle here! Unless you were born before 1898, you didn’t lose a country. It was already gone. It wasn’t the first country to fall, and it won’t be the last. From the days of Julius Caesar “Veni, Vidi, Vici” I came, I saw, I conquered.
on April 18,2013 | 07:42AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Didn't Barry swear Iran would never be a nuclear power? Getting kind of close, eh? What's the next move?
on April 17,2013 | 07:55AM
sayer wrote:
Not looking good with N Korea and Iran in cahoots with one another.
on April 17,2013 | 10:58AM
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