TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's president claimed Sunday that his country is now running 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium for its controversial nuclear program — a long-sought Iranian goal.
The claim contradicted a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday that put the number much lower — at close to 2,000. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said enrichment had slowed and Iran was cooperating with its nuclear probe, which could fend off calls for a third round of sanctions.
"The West thought the Iranian nation would give in after just a resolution, but now we have taken another step in the nuclear progress and launched more than 3,000 centrifuge machines, installing a new cascade every week," Ahmadinejad told a group of students in remarks carried by the state television Web site.
Iran previously announced operating 3,000 centrifuges in April, but the IAEA said at the time that Iran had only 328 centrifuges operating at its underground Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.
In the latest report, drawn up by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the organization put the number of centrifuges enriching uranium in Natanz at close to 2,000 with another 650 being tested.
The 2,000 figure is an increase of a few hundred of the machines over May, when the IAEA last reported on Iran. Still the rate of expansion is much slower than a few months ago, when the country was assembling close to 200 centrifuges every two weeks.
"The recent report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agrees with Iran's approach and the dispute over Iran's nuclear case has ended," Ahmadinejad said. The latest IAEA report noted an increased willingness by the Iranians to answer questions after years of stonewalling.
The U.N, Security Council has so far passed two sets of sanctions targeting Iranian individuals and businesses involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs. The resolutions also ordered countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology for these programs.
The latest announcement could spur renewed calls for a third set of sanctions.
U.N. officials have suggested that Iran had slowed its program and increased its cooperation with the agency investigators to avert new sanctions.
Iran's ultimate stated goal for the Natanz facility, the only site now open to full IAEA monitoring, is to run 54,000 centrifuges — enough for dozens of nuclear weapons a year.
Uranium gas, spun in linked centrifuges, can result in either low-enriched fuel suitable to generate power, or the weapons-grade material that forms the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Iran insists it wants to master the technology only to meet future power needs and argues it is entitled to enrich under a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty provision giving all pact members the right to develop peaceful programs.