Interior Minister: Iran Has Produced 220 Pounds of Enriched Uranium

Iran has produced more than 220 pounds of enriched uranium, the country's interior minister was quoted Friday as saying about the process that can make fuel for civilian energy or fissile material for a bomb.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency carried comments by Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the interior minister, who said that Iran now has 3,000 hooked-up centrifuges actively enriching uranium.

"In the first steps, we were halted and they (the West) did not allow our only 20 centrifuge machines to work," Pourmohammadi said. "But right now, 3,000 of the machines have been operational and more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of enriched uranium has been ready and stored."

In Vienna, a diplomat familiar with Iran's enrichment activities said the interior minister appeared to be talking about "material ... over the past two years" that Iran has produced as part of its experiments with uranium enrichment.

"It's nothing new or exciting," he told The Associated Press, adding the comments were too vague to further qualify. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Pourmohammadi also said that more than 165 tons of primary materials of uranium gas have been stored in the Iranian nuclear facilities. Centrifuge machines spin uranium hexafluoride gas and convert it into enriched uranium.

Pourmohammadi did not elaborate on the percentage of enrichment of the stored enriched uranium. Depending on the level of enrichment, uranium can be used for both nuclear fuel and nuclear weaponry. Experts say about 1,100 pounds of enriched uranium would be needed for one bomb.

The interior minister has no direct role in Iran's disputed nuclear program, and Iranian nuclear officials were not available Friday to comment on the figure he gave.

ISNA is not considered an official agency, but the Iranian government sometimes uses it to release information on sensitive issues.

The comments came as Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was scheduled to meet Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna, Austria, for talks expected to push for a new round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

It was hoped that the meetings could find a way to bridge the impasse over Iran's rejection of U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend enrichment.

The United States and some of its allies fear that Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover to produce weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying it only seeks to generate electricity.

In a report last month, the U.N. nuclear watchdog provided the potential trigger for a new, third round of U.N. sanctions, saying that Iran continued to defy the Security Council by expanding its enrichment activities. The Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iran in December and modestly increased them in March.