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IAEA: Iran making steady advances on nuclear program

The UN nuclear watchdog says that Iran installed more centrifuges at Fordow facility, but it isn't using more of them – yet. Nuclear talks are due to resume soon.

By Staff writer / November 16, 2012

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, right, speaks at a joint press conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano of Japan in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday. The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog says apparent efforts by Iran to dismantle a suspected nuclear site are continuing ahead of a visit by agency officials next month.

Karim Kadim/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

The UN's nuclear watchdog agency says Iran is making steady advances in its nuclear program, boosting its uranium enrichment capacity as diplomatic efforts to limit it nuclear work are due to resume.

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Iran has, in the past three months, completed the installation of centrifuges at the small Fordow facility, built beneath a mountain south of Tehran, according to a report issued today by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Echoing past reports, the IAEA criticized Iran for "not providing the necessary cooperation," which meant that the IAEA was unable to conclude that "all nuclear material in Iran is [used solely] in peaceful activities."

Iran's enrichment advances are monitored and conducted under IAEA safeguards. But the agency said Iran had prevented access for almost a year to Parchin – a site the IAEA believes was once used for weapons-related tests – while apparent cleansing activities were under way.

The IAEA also stated that "no concrete results had been achieved," despite an "intensified dialogue," on resolving longstanding allegations of weapons-related work. Iran rejects the charges, and the documents they are based on, as fabrications of hostile intelligence organizations.

The IAEA noted that Iran was in breach of several UN Security Council resolutions that require it to halt all enrichment work – a crucial sticking point in episodic nuclear negotiations this year, during which Iran has insisted on its "right" to enrich as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Today, the IAEA reported that Iran added 644 centrifuges for a total of 2,784 at Fordow, completing the site where Iran enriches uranium to 20 percent purity – a few technical steps away from weapons-grade of 90 percent.

But the IAEA report said that Iran had not increased the number of working centrifuges at the site – still just below 700, as it was three months ago – nor indicated when Fordow might be fully functional.

While the boost of capacity at Fordow grabs headlines, the IAEA also reported that Iran has converted more than 41 percent of the higher-enriched, 20 percent uranium it has produced into reactor fuel – rendering it virtually unusable for weapons.

The fate of Fordow has been a critical issue during the three rounds of nuclear talks this in which world powers aim to permanently prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

International demands

Amid threats of military action from Israeli and American politicians – and an ever-increasing array of sanctions that have sharply damaged Iran's economy – negotiators of the so-called P5+1 group (the US, China, Russia, France, and the UK, plus Germany) met Iran in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow with little tangible result.

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