- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran has doubled its capacity to enrich uranium by successfully carrying out the process with a second network of centrifuges, a semiofficial news agency reported yesterday, sending a defiant new message to the U.N. Security Council.

Council members are working on a draft resolution that would impose limited sanctions on the Islamic republic because of its refusal to cease enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a civilian nuclear reactor or fissile material for a warhead.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted an anonymous official as saying Iran has successfully begun injecting gas into a second network of centrifuges.

“We are injecting gas into the second cascade, which we installed two weeks ago,” the official said, according to ISNA.

The news agency said the second cascade had doubled Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium. “We have already exploited the product of the second cascade,” the official was quoted.

The State Department said it was up to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess the reports. “I cannot confirm those reports. We are not on the ground,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

President Bush said that regardless of the accuracy, it was “unacceptable” for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and the report underscored the need for the United States and its allies to redouble an effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear capability.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Tehran cease all enrichment-related activities amid concern by the United States and its allies that Iran is seeking to develop a program that can make weapons-grade uranium for nuclear warheads. The Iranians have said their nuclear program is peaceful.

France’s Foreign Ministry called Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program a “negative signal” that should be taken to account at U.N. talks over possible sanctions.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed support for sanctions against Iran but insisted they be temporary and reversible.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he didn’t “share concerns” about the starting of a second network of centrifuges, expressing confidence that the new centrifuges “are under the complete control of the [IAEA], for scientific research purposes.”

Russia and China, which can veto Security Council resolutions and have close economic ties with Iran, are reportedly pushing for continued dialogue with Iran instead of punishment.

In a separate report yesterday, ISNA quoted Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, as saying his country’s enrichment program should not hinder negotiations with the West.

Iran produced a small batch of low-enriched uranium in February, using its initial cascade of 164 centrifuges at its pilot plant at Natanz.

The U.S. and its European allies are circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would ban the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Iran and deny the country certain assistance from the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

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