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. Iran denies minister's comments on 'uranium stockpile'
TEHRAN, June 22 (AFP) Jun 22, 2007
The Iranian interior ministry Friday denied local media reports that the minister announced Iran had ramped up its nuclear capacity and built up a significant stockpile of enriched uranium.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi was quoted by the ISNA student news agency late on Thursday as saying Iran had enriched and stored more than 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds) of enriched uranium.

The stockpiling of such a quantity would have marked an important step forward in Iran's enrichment of uranium, a process the West fears could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

"We have currently 3,000 operational centrifuges and delivered more than 100 kilogrammes of enriched uranium to warehouses," Pour-Mohammadi was quoted as saying, adding that Iran had also stocked more than "150 tonnes of uranium gas."

However, his ministry's public relations office quickly denied that the remarks were made in a speech on Thursday in Khuzestan province.

"Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, in part of his speech, only pointed to Iran's nuclear advances in producing uranium gas (UF6) and did not mention anything about enriched uranium and the number of installed centrifuges," it said.

"Therefore the recent comments attributed to him are denied."

Iran has come under intense Western pressure and been hit by two sets of UN sanctions for its defiance for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment work.

The West fears Tehran's work is aimed a producing nuclear weapons, a charge vehemently denied by Iran which maintains that it seeks nuclear energy to produce electricity for its ever increasing population.

Later on Friday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, is due in Vienna to meet Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

These discussions will be followed on Saturday by talks in Portugal between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. However, expectations of a breakthrough are low.

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