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Iran enriching uranium to higher levels than reported, says UN

The IAEA has found uranium enriched up to 27 percent in an underground bunker in central Iran, several diplomats told The Associated Press. Until now, Iran had only reported enriched uranium to 20 percent. Highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

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Iran went into the Baghdad talks urging the West to scale back on recently toughened sanctions, which have targeted Iran's critical oil exports and have effectively blackballed the country from international banking networks. The 27-nation European Union is set to ban all Iranian fuel imports on July 1, shutting the door on about 18 percent of Iran's market.

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Iran started enriching uranium to 20 percent last year, mostly at Fordo, saying it needed the material to fuel a research reactor and for medical purposes. Still, its long-standing refusal to stop enrichment and accept reactor fuel from abroad has sparked fears it wants to expand its domestic program to be able to turn it toward making weapons.

Those concerns have increased since it started higher enrichment at Fordo, which is carved into a mountain to make it impervious to attack from Israel or the United States. Those two nations have not ruled out using force as a last option if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, offered a lukewarm assessment of the latest negotiations, in light of European and American refusal to lift tough sanctions against Iran as Tehran had hoped.

"The result of the talks was that we were able to get more familiar with the views of each other," Jalili told reporters.

European diplomats focused on the positives.

"It is clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the Baghdad talks, told reporters. "However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground."

But in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said significant differences remain between the two sides and that it's now up to Iran "to close the gaps."

"Iran now has the choice to make: Will it meet its international obligations and give the world confidence about its intentions or not?" Clinton said.

The diplomats who spoke to the AP said a confidential IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program to be released later Friday to the agency's 35-nation board will mention of the traces of 27-percent enrichment found at Fordo.

Iran already has around 700 centrifuges churning out 20-percent enriched uranium at Fordo. The diplomats said the report will also note that — while Iran has set up around 350 more centrifuges since late last year at the site — these machines are not enriching.

While the reason for that could be purely technical, it could also be a signal from Tehran that it is waiting for progress in the negotiations.

The report is also expected to detail the state of talks between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran that the agency hopes will re-launch a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Tehran has worked on nuclear-weapons related experiments — charges that Tehran denies.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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