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Iran Deploys More Uranium Gear at Qum Facility

A September 2009 satellite picture of the Iranian uranium enrichment plant near Qum. Iran has significantly increased the number of centrifuges at the facility, according to news reports (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe). A September 2009 satellite picture of the Iranian uranium enrichment plant near Qum. Iran has significantly increased the number of centrifuges at the facility, according to news reports (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe).

Iran's subterranean Qum facility has received a significant quantity of additional uranium refinement centrifuges, international relations insiders told Reuters on Thursday.

The move could mark an initial step toward bolstering activity that Western powers worry is geared toward nuclear arms production. Tehran insists all of its atomic activities, including its refinement of uranium, are intended solely for peaceful purposes.

The fortified complex might have acquired hundreds more uranium enrichment machines, according to one of the insiders.

"There are now 1,500 centrifuges completed [at Qum], up from 700," former U.S. national security official Ray Takeyh added in a Thursday report by the Los Angeles Times.

An international affairs official in Vienna, Austria, said "our basic understanding is that they were continuing to install," Reuters reported. The recently fielded equipment remains inactive, according to the speaker.

High-level Iranian officials in July said their nation had fielded 1,000 additional enrichment centrifuges, the New York Times reported. The purported new deployment -- described by envoys and informed specialists -- could mean the assertion was correct, according to the newspaper.

Tehran has apparently finished assembling a pair of additional refinement "cascades," each comprised of 174 linked devices, a separate international relations insider told Reuters. The deployment would increase to eight the total number of the centrifuge assemblies housed at Qum.

The International Atomic Energy Agency could verify the Iranian move in a safeguards assessment scheduled for publication before the end of the month. Tehran was most recently reported to be operating four of the six cascades already confirmed to be present at the facility.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog assessment would note the deployment as well as a growing Iranian emphasis on the production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, the New York Times reported. Washington and its allies fear the higher-enriched material could enable faster preparation of bomb-capable uranium with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent; Tehran insists the effort is intended to provide fuel for a medical research reactor.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday voiced alarm over indications of advancements in Iran's atomic activities.

"Only yesterday we received additional proof that Iran is continuing accelerated progress towards achieving nuclear weapons and is totally ignoring international demands," Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, Tehran and the atomic agency ended a Friday meeting with no arrangement for addressing questions over possible Iranian weapon-related experimentation, Reuters reported.

"The discussions today were intensive but important differences remain between Iran and the U.N. that prevented agreement," said IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts, leader of a team representing the Vienna, Austria-based organization.

"At the moment we have no plans for another meeting," he said.

The gathering's objective was to hammer out terms for a resumed U.N. probe into Iranian atomic operations, Nackaerts said in an earlier Reuters report. The agency hoped Tehran would speak to data hinting at potential Iranian efforts applicable "to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” Agence France-Presse said, adding the initiatives would have taken place prior to 2003 and potentially later.

The U.S. intelligence community in 2007 declared that 2003 was the year in which Iran ended formal nuclear-weapon efforts, a finding that proved controversial in Tel Aviv and other capitals. Details of subsequent National Intelligence Estimates on Iran have not been made public.

The IAEA group's agenda would include another call for a new examination of the Parchin armed forces installation, where agency personnel believe the country might have assembled a tank for performing sensitive combustion studies, Nackaerts indicated in the earlier Reuters report. Tehran has rejected several such bids so far this year.

Differences persisted between the sides, though "undoubtedly some progress" had been achieved, said Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

"Because it is a very complex issue ... issues related to national security of a member state are something very delicate," Soltanieh stated.

Iran should conclude an arrangement with the agency, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said earlier. Ashton has communicated with Tehran on behalf of six major governments engaging in separate negotiations aimed at defusing the nuclear standoff.

"We call on Iran to use today's meeting to come to give its agreement ... so that questions of substance could be addressed swiftly," the spokesman stated.

Ashton and senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili intend in a Aug. 31 telephone conference to swap positions taken by their respective groups over matters addressed during a technical discussion early last month, Iran's Fars News Agency reported on Thursday.

Incipient Iraqi nuclear arms efforts under way in the late 20th century became publicly known due to an IAEA group with similarities to an Iran investigation support team now reportedly under development by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, an envoy told the Associated Press.

The Iraq group enjoyed a broad international mandate to carry out in-person audits within Iraq's borders, whereas Iran has stonewalled an IAEA probe and limited agency oversight to its declared atomic assets, AP said.

Soltanieh said he had no knowledge of the Iran investigation group.

The agency was making “an internal adjustment to meet the operational needs of the Safeguards Department,” IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in reference to the effort.

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