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Iranian move to step up uranium enrichment worries UN nuclear chief

By UN

8 February - The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog expressed concern at Iran's announcement today that it will step up its enrichment of uranium, with the country having still not signed an international agreement on fuel for its civilian nuclear research site in the capital, Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that it was informed by Iran in a letter that it will enhance its enrichment of the material to nearly 20 per cent for use at the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical radioisotopes for therapeutic and diagnostic procedures.

The enrichment process, the nation told the UN body, will take place at a plant in Natanz in central Iran.

According to a statement by IAEA spokesperson Gill Tudor, Director General Yukiya Amano is concerned that Iran's move will effect “ongoing international efforts to ensure the availability of nuclear fuel” for use at the civilian research site in the capital.

“The Director General reiterated the agency's readiness to play an intermediary role on the issue” of the Tehran reactor, Ms. Tudor said.

Last October, an agreement on fuel for the Tehran site was put forward during talks at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters. Iran has said it needs more time to provide a response, while the other three parties to the talks – France, Russia and the United States – have all indicated their approval of the agreement.

In his last address to the IAEA Board of Governors in November, Mr. Amano's predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, declared that the agency had reached a “dead end” with Iran, noting that there had been no movement in over a year in resolving outstanding issues related to its nuclear programme.

The proposed agreement, he said, is a unique opportunity to address a humanitarian need and create space for negotiations.

“I am disappointed that Iran has not so far agreed to the original proposal or the alternative modalities, both of which I believe are balanced and fair and would greatly help to alleviate the concerns relating to Iran's nuclear programme,” stated Mr. ElBaradei.

“This opportunity should be seized and it would be highly regrettable if it was missed,” he added.

The IAEA has also urged Iran to clarify the purpose of an enrichment plant near the city of Qom, southwest of Tehran, after the country disclosed its existence last September.

Iran has stated that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but some other countries contend it is driven by military ambitions. The issue has been of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for nearly two decades in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).