Iran signals expansion of nuclear work

Iran now has 5 000 working uranium-enrichment centrifuges, a senior official was quoted as saying on Wednesday, signalling an expansion of work the West fears is aimed at making nuclear weapons.

The comments by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, made clear once again that the Islamic Republic has no intention of bowing to Western pressure to halt or freeze its disputed nuclear programme.

They also underlined the challenge facing United States president-elect Barack Obama, who after his election victory this month called for an international effort to stop Tehran developing a nuclear bomb, saying it was “unacceptable”.

The number of centrifuges given by Aghazadeh was higher than a figure of 3 800 such machines the United Nations nuclear agency cited in a November 19 report, which was based on a visit by its inspectors to Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant earlier in the month.

Iranian officials and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have also in the past differed in their estimates of Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Now we have 5 000 running centrifuges,” Aghazadeh told the official Irna news agency. Deputy Foreign Minister Alireza Sheikh Attar in August said Iran had 4 000 working centrifuges.

IAEA officials in Vienna had no immediate comment on Iran’s latest statement.

Adding to tensions, Iran said on Wednesday it had launched a rocket called Kavosh 2, or Explorer 2, the latest in a series of ballistics tests that the West fears may form part of a bid to build missiles that could carry atomic warheads in future.—Reuters

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