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. Iran working 'continuously' to expand nuclear programme
TEHRAN, April 17 (AFP) Apr 17, 2007
Iran on Tuesday said it was working "continuously" to expand its nuclear programme at an ultra-sensitive facility, in defiance of UN calls on Tehran to stop controversial atomic activities.

"We are employing the maximum effort to realise our projects in Natanz. Today in Natanz there is a continuous movement to install the centrifuges," the head of Iran's atomic energy agency Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said.

Iran has said it ultimately wants to install 50,000 uranium enriching centrifuges at the plant in Natanz, central Iran, although its medium-term goal was to put in place 3,000 units.

Aghazadeh's comments to the ISNA news agency come a week after Iran announced that its work at Natanz to enrich uranium -- a process the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons -- had reached an "industrial" scale.

However Aghazadeh once again refused to reveal how many centrifuges Iran has installed at the plant, a reluctance that has created uncertainty about how far advanced is the Iranian nuclear programme.

"There is nothing unusual in announcing no figures," he said. Iran has repeatedly dismissed statements from Western observers casting doubt on its announcement of reaching industrial scale enrichment.

He reaffirmed that Iran "would continue with the installation until it has 50,000 centrifuges", saying that this process could take between 2-4 years depending on the circumstances.

The UN Security Council has already imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, and the Islamic republic faces further punitive measures if it does not comply.

The United States has refused to rule out the option of military action against Iran should sanctions fail to work. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said last week that Iran had installed only "hundreds" of centrifuges at Natanz, well short of its medium-term goal of 3,000.

More precise information could come from UN nuclear inspectors who left Iran on Sunday evening after a regular visit, although their findings are not expected to be made public immediately.

Uranium enrichment is the main sticking point in the crisis between Iran and world powers as the process can be used both to make nuclear fuel for power stations and for atomic weapons, which Iran insists it has not ambition to have.

Iran has so far rejected Western demands that it suspends enrichment -- a position that is again being hammered home by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he addresses rallies on a five-day trip to the southern Fars province.

Aghazadeh called on European countries to return to the negotiating table -- something they have so far refused to do unless Tehran suspends enrichment.

"The moment for the serious negotiations about the non-deviation of the Iranian nuclear programme has arrived," said Aghazadeh.

"Iran has achieved its objectives in its enrichment of uranium and is now ready to remove the worries of the other countries on the non-deviation of its nuclear programme."

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