Iran to Start Assembling Centrifuges, IAEA Says

By George Jahn
Associated Press
Saturday, January 27, 2007

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 26 -- Iran plans to begin work next month on an underground uranium enrichment facility, as part of a plan to create a network of tens of thousands of machines turning out material that could be used to make nuclear arms, U.N. officials said Friday.

"I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000-centrifuge facility . . . sometime next month," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters at the World Economic Forum here.

"If Iran takes this step, it is going to confront universal international opposition," warned U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns. "If they think they can get away with 3,000 centrifuges without another Security Council resolution and additional international pressure, then they are very badly mistaken."

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, meanwhile, accused the United States of acting like a bully, with the ultimate aim of forcing Iran to "abandon nuclear energy." Also Friday, the Iranian government said it would bar the entry of all U.N. inspectors from countries that voted in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution last month that imposed sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. Iran said it had rejected 38 names from a list of inspectors from the atomic energy agency.

The Security Council's 60-day deadline for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment runs out next month, paving the way for further sanctions.

U.N. officials, who demanded anonymity because the information was confidential, emphasized that Iran had not officially announced plans to embark on the assembly of what would initially be 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz underground plant. But they said senior officials have informally told the IAEA that the work would begin next month.

Iran ultimately plans to expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material. The government says it aims to produce nuclear fuel to generate electricity. But if Iran chose, it could use the massive array of centrifuges to make enough weapons-grade material for dozens of nuclear warheads a year.

Diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said Iran also had demanded the removal of a senior official linked to agency inspections of the country's nuclear program.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company