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. Iran denies secretly shifting processed uranium
TEHRAN (AFP) Apr 13, 2005
Iran denied on Wednesday reports it had secretly shifted processed uranium from one of its nuclear facilities in a bid to go on with enrichment activities it has agreed to suspend.

"Iran is seeking to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, so it makes no sense to smuggle uranium and enrich it in the country," said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

"This is propaganda by some Western countries. (Such reports) have happened before and proven unfounded later," he was quoted as saying by the ISNA student news agency.

Asefi was reacting to reports that Iran has been spiriting an unspecified quantity of processed uranium out of a facility in Isfahan, which is monitored by the UN watchdog, to an unknown location.

Iran has agreed to suspend the enrichment of uranium as it negotiates with Britain, France and Germany to win trade, security and technology rewards in return for giving guarantees that it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The United States accuses Iran of using its nuclear programme as cover for a plan to develop arms, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran which says it needs nuclear power as an alternative energy source.

Iran agreed in November to suspend enrichment activities as a goodwill gesture for a maximum of six months, but the Europeans want the suspension to become permanent, a demand the Iranians have termed "absurd".

Negotations are due to resume on April 19.

Tehran says it has the right to enrich uranium to low levels to produce atomic fuel for civilian power stations, but highly enriched uranium can provide the core for an atomic bomb.

Iran has processed in Isfahan 37 tonnes of raw "yellowcake" uranium into uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), which could be processed further to enriched uranium.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said Wednesday on state television that restricting uranium enrichment activities had "never been an issue" in its talks with the Europeans.

"It is up to the Europeans to take further steps," he said, asked about the status of the negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told US President George W. Bush at their summit in Texas on Monday that Iran was near a "point of no return" in learning how to make a nuclear weapon, the New York Times reported.

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