Iranian Lawmaker Says Country Has Begun Installing 3,000 Centrifuges

Iran is currently installing 3,000 centrifuges, a top lawmaker said Saturday in an announcement underlining that Iran is pushing ahead with its nuclear program despite U.N. sanctions.

"We are right now installing 3,000 centrifuges," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian Parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said the installation, under way at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, "stabilizes Iran's capability in the field of nuclear technology," IRNA reported.

Iran's announcement appears to be its latest gesture of defiance toward the international community over its nuclear program. It faces the prospect of additional United Nations sanctions unless it stops uranium enrichment by the end of a 60-day period that ends next month.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in favor of sanctions Dec. 23 after Iran ignored an earlier deadline to halt enrichment.

Large scale use of centrifuges makes it possible to produce more enriched uranium in a shorter period.

Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors and to make nuclear weapons. Many countries, including the United States, believe that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to produce an atomic weapon.

Iranian officials had said in recent weeks that the country was moving toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.

Boroujerdi's comments came a day after U.N. officials said Iran plans to begin work next month on an underground uranium enrichment facility, as part of a plan to create a network of tens of thousands of machines to enrich uranium.

Iranian officials have said repeatedly that work would start soon on the uranium enrichment facility at its Natanz underground plant. There had been speculation the leadership might launch the project next month to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought the clerical leadership to power.

"I understand that they are going to announce that they are going to build up their 3,000 centrifuge facility ... sometime next month," International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters at the World Economic Forum said Friday.

A senior U.S. State Department official warned against the move. "If Iran takes this step, it is going to confront universal international opposition," Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on Friday. "If they think they can get away with 3,000 centrifuges without another Security Council resolution and additional international pressure, then they are very badly mistaken."

Iran ultimately plans to expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges, a large operation enriching more uranium within a shorter period of time.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of trying to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies this, saying its program is only for generating electricity, not a bomb.

In enrichment plants, centrifuges are linked in what are called cascades. For now, the only known assembled centrifuge cascades in Iran are above ground at Natanz, consisting of two linked chains of 164 machines each and two smaller setups.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Mottaki said Iran's decision last week to bar the entrance of IAEA inspectors from countries whose governments voted in favor the U.N. sanctions resolution was within Iran's legal rights.

"This decision is lawful and will not harm our cooperation with the IAEA," Mottaki told a press conference Saturday.