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World News

Iran says clears hurdles to nuclear industry

TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday Iran had overcome difficulties en route to a nuclear energy industry and no one could stop it, a day after France called for wider European sanctions to rein in Tehran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to his supporters while attending a religious ceremony to mark the anniversary of the death of the first Shi'ite Muslim Imam, Imam al-Ali, at a grand mosque in Tehran October 2, 2007. Ahmadinejad said on Thursday Iran had overcome difficulties en route to a nuclear energy industry and no one could stop it, a day after France called for wider European sanctions to rein in Tehran. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Diplomats said Iran had installed close to 3,000 centrifuge machines, enough to start refining usable amounts of nuclear fuel, but would need to run them in unison at high speeds for long periods to attain that threshold.

“I announce to the whole world that the Iranian nation has passed the difficult points (on its nuclear path),” Ahmadinejad said in remarks carried by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.

“And no power can stop this nation from making more and more (atomic) achievements.”

The U.N. nuclear watchdog director told the Financial Times on Tuesday that Iran was feeding uranium into centrifuges for enrichment at only 10 percent of their capacity and remained “far from having a nuclear weapon”, assuming Tehran wanted one.

Western powers fear Iran’s pursuit of nuclear-generated electricity is a precursor to it learning how to build atom bombs. They have sponsored two sets of U.N. sanctions against Tehran and are preparing to draft harsher penalties.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wrote to European Union counterparts urging them to explore widening financial sanctions on Iran, saying the world could not afford to wait for U.N. action. Russia and China have held up tougher U.N. steps.

SCEPTICISM

Previous remarks about an enrichment breakthrough by Ahmadinejad, including a proclamation in April of industrial capacity, have not been backed by evidence, analysts say.

Diplomats close to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency originally expected Iran to have 3,000 centrifuges running by May or June. But in July the IAEA reported a slowdown in the programme which continued at least into mid-September.

A French diplomat said U.N. inspectors now believed Iran would have 3,000 operating by the end of October, although an EU diplomat accredited to the IAEA said forecasts of advances were still based on what Iran had told inspectors.

“Running a large number of centrifuges in parallel over a sustained period at full speed -- that would be a technical achievement they have not thus far shown they can do,” the diplomat said.

Some diplomats and analysts believe Iran’s slow enrichment pace has also been politically motivated -- to blunt U.S.-led pressure for stiffer sanctions. Iran denies technical problems.

Six world powers agreed last Friday to delay tightening sanctions until November at the earliest to await an IAEA report on whether Iran is carrying out a plan agreed with inspectors to clarify past secret aspects of its programme.

But, concerned Iran is buying time to perfect enrichment, the powers have reiterated Tehran must suspend nuclear activity and permit wider-ranging inspections as called for by U.N. resolutions to earn trust and negotiations on trade benefits.

Kouchner urged EU foreign ministers to debate next steps at an October 15 meeting in Luxembourg. But, while France can count on British support, Italy and Germany are reluctant to adopt EU sanctions outside a U.N. framework.

Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris and Mark Heinrich in Vienna

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