Iran Corroborates U.N. Nuclear Monitor's Estimate of Centrifuges in Operation

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 30, 2008

TEHRAN, Aug. 29 -- Iran is using 4,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium and plans to install an additional 3,000 of the devices, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Reza Sheikh Attar said Thursday in an interview on Iranian state television.

Sheikh Attar did not say when the new machines would begin operating, but his statement corroborates the International Atomic Energy Agency's estimate of the number of centrifuges that Iran is currently using. The country says it plans to build a total of 54,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, which can be used to fuel nuclear power plants or to build nuclear weapons.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in July that the country already had 5,000 centrifuges. The IAEA, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency, which routinely inspects Iran's main enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran through visits and permanent video surveillance, said that Ahmadinejad had overstated the amount of centrifuges by a thousand. A report by the IAEA in May said Iran may have 6,000 of the machines ready by September.

Iran says the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory, gives it the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The country says it needs nuclear energy to provide for a growing energy demand.

The United States and other countries suspect Iran of trying to make a nuclear weapon. The U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran, mainly aimed at its defense and financial industries, intended to dissuade the country from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Negotiations between Iran and world powers over the nuclear program have stalled over the summer, with Iran ignoring an ultimatum to answer a proposal from the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, which demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities as a precondition for talks.

Iran argues that it suspended enrichment from 2003 until 2005 at the request of European countries, which it says then failed to reach an agreement with Iran. Iranian officials have often stated their willingness to negotiate but only if there are no preconditions.

No new economic sanctions against Iran have come into effect since the issuance of the ultimatum on Aug. 5, mainly because of differences between Russia and China, on one hand, and the Western powers on the other. Russia, China and the European Union are Iran's most important trade partners. Russia is building Iran's first nuclear power plant in the town of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf.

Western nations will have to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions without Russia's help if they refuse to cooperate with Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in an interview with CNN on Thursday.

Asked if the conflict with Georgia could hurt U.S.-Russian cooperation on Iran, Putin said: "If nobody wants to talk with us on these issues and cooperation with Russia is not needed, then for God's sake, do it yourself."

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