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IAEA: Iran pushing ahead with nuclear program

Iran has continued to install advanced nuclear enrichment centrifuges and plans to test them, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported. Concerns are rife that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has installed a total of 1,008 high-tech centrifuges at its central enrichment facility, which it is preparing to test, the UN's atomic energy agency said in its quarterly report released on Wednesday.

"Iran has continued to install IR-2m centrifuges in one of the units" at the Natanz site, the IAEA said.

According to the IAEA report - the first to be released since the election of relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani in June - the Islamic Republic has put the centrifuges under vacuum. Such a move is said to usually be one of the final steps before the machines start spinning uranium gas. This can then be used as reactor fuel or as the core of nuclear warheads, depending on its enrichment level.

When the IAEA last reported in May, it said Iran had 698 IR-2 centrifuges. They would allow Tehran to enrich uranium faster, enabling it to obtain the amount of fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb more quickly.

Tehran has long insisted that it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only.

Western nations have been awaiting signs from the new president that he is prepared to ease tensions with the international community, particularly in light of fears that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear arms.

Envoys accredited to the IAEA have been quick to note that the contents of Wednesday's report mainly reflect developments prior to Rouhani taking office on August 3.

The IAEA confirmed Wednesday that nuclear talks with Iran would resume on September 27.

Iran has been hit by four rounds of UN sanctions, as well as EU and US sanctions on its oil and banking sectors. The UN Security Council has also passed several resolutions urging it to halt enrichment.

ccp/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)