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Has Tehran Accelerated its Enrichment Program in the Last 16 Months?

11:14 AM, Jan 23, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Here are two pieces worth reading. Philip Sherwell reports in the Sunday Telegraph that,

Iran has secretly extended the uranium enrichment plant at the centre of the international controversy over its resumption of banned nuclear research earlier this month, satellite imagery has revealed....

The discovery has heightened fears that Iran is stepping up the pace of its suspected weapons programme, in breach of international agreements, since it removed International Atomic Energy Authority seals on nuclear equipment at the site 10 days ago.

The building work took place unannounced during a 16-month pause in research and development at the site, while Iran engaged the West in protracted talks over its professed desire to develop nuclear power....

John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, an independent Washington defence research consultancy that specialises in analysing satellite images, told this newspaper: "These pictures indicate that Iran is replicating every major step that Pakistan took in its atomic bomb programme."

...Evidence of new building at Natanz has further fuelled concerns about Iran's intentions. "It is surprising to see how much construction work has taken place," said Mr Pike. "The Iranians have been very busy even while the seals were in place."

...The Iranians kept the existence of the Natanz and Araq sites secret until 2002 when IAEA inspectors confirmed opposition claims that Iran had been conducting a nuclear programme for 18 years.

And Agence France-Presse reports:

Iran may have received three shipments of sophisticated P-2 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium, diplomats said, which could support Western claims that Tehran is hiding sensitive nuclear work.

Iran, which already has the less high-tech P-1 centrifuges, denies having received the more advanced machines, which make enriching uranium easier.

One diplomat said there were reportedly three shipments of one centrifuge each from the black-market network of disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1997....

The [IAEA] said it had "emphasized to Iran the importance of providing the additional requested supporting documentation" on its work with both P-1's and P-2's.

Non-proliferation analyst David Albright told AFP from Washington that the Khan network "always sent sample machines with designs."

"It would make sense if Iran got this. This is how the Khan network worked. They had stockpiles of these things in Dubai," said Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector.

If Iran "imported whole P-2 machines, that's a significant difference from what they told the IAEA," he said.

He said that while "you can't argue they are somehow hiding enrichment but you can certainly argue they have been hiding a significant part of their P-2 program."