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Iran Leader Seeks Vast Nuclear-Fuel Boost

A man in Tehran last month holds an image of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his late predecessor. Khamenei on Tuesday said his country plans to eventually pursue a nearly 20-fold increase to its uranium-enrichment capacity. A man in Tehran last month holds an image of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his late predecessor. Khamenei on Tuesday said his country plans to eventually pursue a nearly 20-fold increase to its uranium-enrichment capacity. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran's top leader said Tehran would need to purify uranium nearly 20 times faster, as outsiders raced to cap its ability to fuel nuclear bombs, Reuters reports.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday said six other negotiating countries want to limit Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity to "10,000 separative work units, which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have." Tehran insists it only wants to refine uranium to low levels for use in civilian reactors, but other countries suspect it wants an option to produce higher-purity material for weapons.

"Our officials say we need 190,000 centrifuges," Khamenei said. "Perhaps this is not a need this year or in two years or five years, but this is the country's absolute need."

Tehran is discussing the possibility of limiting some of its nuclear activities for a number of years in exchange for sanctions relief from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The sides are pushing to complete a deal by July 20, when an interim atomic deal is scheduled to expire.

Former U.S. State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick said Khamenei's latest comment "confirms" that Iran's negotiators "are not authorized to accept cutbacks to the enrichment program." The country has deployed over 19,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges to date, and is currently producing civilian nuclear fuel in about 10,000 of the machines.

Khamenei accused the other governments of issuing hollow threats of military action against Iran's atomic assets, Reuters reported separately.

"They make it seem like Israel wants to attack, but America is stopping it: the good cop, bad cop trick," he said. "But I say out loud: the reason they are not attacking is because it is too costly. The enemy has no other option at its disposal but make threats and impose sanctions."

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