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Iran 'Informs IAEA' Of Enrichment Plan, Sparking Condemnation

Iran has formally informed the UN nuclear agency that it will start on February 9 to further enrich uranium stockpiles to a level of 20 percent, further fueling Western concerns that Tehran is secretly seeking a nuclear bomb-making capacity.

"We wrote a letter to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that we shall start making 20-percent enriched fuel," the head of the Iranian Atomic Organization, Ali-Akbar Salehi, told Iran's Arabic-language state television channel, Al-Alam late on February 7. "We will hand over this official letter to the IAEA on [February 8] and shall start enrichment on [February 9] in the presence of IAEA monitors."

The move essentially circumvents a UN compromise deal aimed at easing Western concerns Iran could use its uranium for a nuclear weapon.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said today that Washington and Paris would push for new UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

"It will be necessary -- unfortunately, I must say -- to initiate an international dialogue that will lead to new sanctions if Iran does not cease these programs that we are confident are for military purposes," Morin said.

Morin spoke after talks with his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates, who said Iran must be brought "back to the negotiating table."

"The point of the pressure is to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table and to resolve this issue in a way that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon," Gates said, "and I think that we are very much agreed that action by the international community, it looks like, is now the next step."

'Deliberate Breach'

In other reactions, Germany today condemned the Iranian plan, saying it was a further sign that Iran is not cooperating with the international community.

German spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Tehran had again demonstrated that it had no intention of accepting the UN deal -- despite claims from senior Iranian officials as recently as February 5 that they were close to accepting the compromise.

Britain's Foreign Ministry said Tehran's announcement was "clearly a matter of serious concern" and "a deliberate breach" of UN Security Council resolutions.

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement today stating flatly that "the way out of the current situation is for Iran to fulfill the agreement reached in Geneva in October 1 last year."

In order to build nuclear weapons, Iran must enrich its uranium stockpiles to the 90 percent level. IAEA monitors say those stockpiles are now at 4.5 percent enrichment -- the level needed if Iran only uses the material as fuel for generating nuclear power.

In fact, that is what Tehran had claimed for years that its nuclear program was designed to do -- only generate nuclear energy for peaceful civilian purposes.

But after building up stockpiles of low-level enriched uranium, Tehran started to claim that it needed to further enrich its uranium for medical experiments -- raising it to the 20 percent level for use as medical isotopes.

That claim has been rejected by the United States, Britain, France and Germany as a ruse that would allow Iran to creep closer toward building nuclear weapons.

As recently as February 5, Iran still claimed it was close to accepting the UN compromise.

The deal would have sent Iranian uranium supplies to Russia for enrichment to the 20-percent level and then on to France where it would be packaged into nuclear fuel rods before being returned to Iran for use in a nuclear reactor near Tehran.

Nuclear experts tell RFE/RL Iran would not have been able to secretly continue enrichment on that material above the 20-percent level once the uranium had been packaged in fuel rods.

The say by enriching uranium to the 20-percent level on its own, Iran is leaving open the possibility that it could divert supplies in the future for further enrichment into nuclear weapons grade material.

compiled from agency reports

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