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Monday, February 13, 2006

Iran Starts Atom Enrichment

Iran has restarted uranium enrichment work. It had begun feeding uranium gas into centrifuges - a first step in a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or bomb material.

Putting uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into centrifuges, which distill out enriched uranium, would be a major escalation by Iran in its face-off with the West over a nuclear program which the United States charges hides secret atomic weapons development.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged Iran to help set the stage for a new round of talks on its nuclear program by March and warned against an escalation of Tehran's tense dispute with the West.

Annan said he hoped Tehran would take steps to show that diplomacy is 'not dead' before the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, meets in Vienna next month to decide whether to recommend UN Security Council action.

Iranian talks with Russia had been slated for Thursday but were postponed indefinitely because of the "new situation," said Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham. He was referring to the IAEA's decision this month to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council because of uncertainty over its nuclear intentions.

Moscow had proposed that Iran ship its uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a level suitable for nuclear reactors. It would then be returned to Iran for use at the Russian-built Bushehr plant, which is due to begin operating this year.

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