- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

DAVOS, Switzerland — Iran expects to start installing thousands of centrifuges in an underground facility next month, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said yesterday.

The installation would pave the way to large-scale uranium enrichment, a potential way of making nuclear weapons.

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mohamed ElBaradei said: “I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000-centrifuge facility … sometime next month.”

A top State Department official said it would be a “major miscalculation” by Iranian authorities if they carry out the reported plan.

“If Iran takes this step, it is going to confront universal international opposition,” said 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.”

Mr. ElBaradei did not elaborate, but U.N. officials, who demanded anonymity because the information was confidential, emphasized that Iran had not officially said it would embark on the assembly of what will initially be 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz. But they said senior officials have informally told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the work would begin in February.

The comments by the U.N. officials were the first independent confirmation that the Iranians had informed the IAEA of such plans.

Iran ultimately plans to expand its enrichment program to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material to produce nuclear fuel. That would give it the capacity to produce dozens of nuclear warheads a year, if it chose to develop weapons.

Separately, Iran said yesterday it would bar all IAEA inspectors coming from countries that voted for a Security Council resolution on sanctions last month. The announcement was made after Iran said it had rejected 38 names from an IAEA list of inspectors.

In another development yesterday, the main exiled Iranian opposition group published a list of nearly 32,000 Iraqis who it said were “agents of the mullahs,” employed by Iran to destabilize its neighbor, Agence France-Presse reported.

President Bush this week authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to detain Iranian agents, reversing a policy under which hundreds of Iranian operatives had been briefly held and then released.

At a press conference in Berlin yesterday, the spokesman of the German chapter of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Javad Dabiran, said the agents were employed by the Qods force, which is affiliated with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

He said the NCRI had obtained the list of 31,690 members, which includes the name of each fighter in Arabic and Farsi, his bank account number and the amount he received in each month in rials, Mr. Dabiran said.

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