UN says Iran enriching more uranium, warns of nuclear bomb program

A new report by the UN's nuclear watchdog warned that Iran appears to be pursuing a nuclear bomb and said the country is boosting its uranium enrichment efforts.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in protective glasses visits an exhibition of Iran laser science and technology in Tehran, capital of Iran.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency raised public concerns for the first time Thursday that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a move that may boost the US effort to impose new sanctions on Tehran.

A new report released by the UN’s nuclear monitoring agency confirmed that Iran has produced a first batch of more highly enriched uranium, reports The Washington Post. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had enriched uranium to 20 percent last week (a claim met with some skepticism, as the Monitor reported). The report also cited Iran’s failure to explain the purchase of sensitive technology, as well as tests of detonators and missile designs that are associated with nuclear warheads. Inspectors also found that Iran had moved most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to a site used to enrich the nuclear fuel to higher levels.

The IAEA said the evidence pointing to possible weapons research came from multiple sources and was "consistent," raising concerns about "past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."

Iran's supreme leader responded Friday, saying the Islamic republic doesn't believe in pursuing nuclear bombs, reports CNN.

"Iran will not get emotional in its response to these nonsensical statements, because we have often said that our religious tenets and beliefs consider these kinds of weapons of mass destruction to be symbols of genocide and are, therefore, forbidden and considered to be haram [religiously banned]," he said.

"This is why we do not believe in atomic bombs and weapons and do not seek them."

This report brings the IAEA’s public assessment of Iran’s nuclear program into step with most Western intelligence agencies, though it contradicts the controversial US report released in 2007 that concluded Iran had stopped nuclear weapons research in 2003. The IAEA report claims such activity extended beyond 2004.

It has also bolstered the US position that the UN Security Council should impose new sanctions on Iran. Germany said Friday that Iran should face fresh sanctions, reports Reuters. State-run Russian news service RIA Novosti reports that Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that Iran might face new sanctions.

"The UN Security Council is not working on a resolution on possible sanctions at the moment, but in the wake of the recent developments, we cannot completely rule out the beginning of this work," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

The New York Times reports that Iran also told inspectors it would metalize uranium, which the Times says is "widely viewed as necessary for making the core of an atom bomb.” According to the Times, some officials said Iran was using its nuclear program to distract citizens from domestic problems and unify the country.

One senior administration official, told of the report’s main conclusions, said that he thought the actions described in the document “almost suggest the Iranian military is inviting a confrontation.” In fact, some in the Obama administration suspect that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or its leading religious leaders are betting that an escalation of the nuclear confrontation might distract attention from the protests that have rocked the government, while unifying the country against outsiders supposedly trying to suppress Iran’s rise as a significant power.

The report buttressed that view by indicating that Iran had moved most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium into an above-ground storage plant at Natanz, where it is vulnerable to military attack.

According to Reuters, US officials also found evidence in the report of significant technical problems with Iran’s nuclear program. More than half of the antiquated centrifuges at the enrichment site in Natanz appear not to be working, according to the report. The US official quoted by Reuters said Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium at a slow rate and is several years away from accumulating enough 20-percent enriched uranium to convert into bomb material.

The IAEA report, which is to be considered at a March 1-5 meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board, said Iran’s present stockpile of low-enriched uranium would give it enough for one or two nuclear weapons, though it would have to be further enriched.

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