TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian nuclear agency official has denied claims made by a top lawmaker that the Islamic Republic had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at an uranium enrichment plant, Iran's state-run news agency reported.
Hossein Simorgh, spokesman of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization public relations department, said "no new centrifuges have been installed in Natanz," referring to the nuclear facility in central Iran, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported late Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Iran was currently installing the 3,000 centrifuges, underlining that the country would continue to develop its disputed nuclear program despite U.N. sanctions.
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It was not immediately clear why the two officials made contradicting statements. Iranian officials have in recent weeks said the country was moving toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini refused to elaborate on the discrepancy Sunday, saying only that the contradicting remarks were a "technical matter."
"Let the organization elaborate on it at a convenient time," Hosseini added.
Hosseini also said that Russia's national security adviser, Igor Ivanov, arrived in Tehran on Sunday for talks with top leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, the country's nuclear negotiator.
The U.N. Security Council last month voted unanimously in favor of imposing limited sanctions on Iran after it ignored earlier demands to halt enrichment. Iran faces the prospect of additional sanctions unless it stops enrichment by the end of a 60-day period that ends next month.
Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors and to make nuclear weapons, and large scale use of centrifuges makes it possible to produce more enriched uranium in a shorter period.
The United States and its allies believe that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to produce an atomic weapon. Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying its program is only for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
International Atomic Energy Association head Mohamed ElBaradei said recently he believed Iran planned to begin work in February on a uranium enrichment facility underground. The subterranean facility is intended to protect the nuclear project from attack.
There has been speculation that Iranian leadership might launch the centrifuges installation at Natanz next month to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that brought the clerical leadership to power. Iran ultimately plans to expand its program to 54,000 centrifuges.
A senior U.S. State Department official warned Iran against accelerating its atomic program. "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."
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, three inspectors from the IAEA who arrived in Iran on Saturday were scheduled to visit Natanz, Iranian state-television reported.
Iran last week barred 38 inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog because they came from countries that voted for sanctions on Iran. State television did not give the nationalities of the three inspectors, and the IAEA could not immediately confirm their arrival in Iran.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran's decision last week to bar the entrance of the 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 said Saturday.
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