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Subject Iran to enrich uranium to 20% as nuclear fears grow
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Original Message Iran to enrich uranium to 20% as nuclear fears grow

Iran has told the UN's nuclear watchdog it will step up its nuclear programme from Tuesday, raising Western fears that it is planning to make a bomb.

Its nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said earlier that Iran would start enriching uranium to 20% at Natanz, Iran's main uranium enrichment plant.

He added that 10 new uranium enrichment plants would be built - a massive claim greeted with scepticism by experts.

The move heightens fears that Iran is moving closer to weapons-grade uranium.


ANALYSIS

Jon Leyne, BBC News
Iran is stepping up the pace of its nuclear confrontation with the West.

If the aim is to have all 10 new enrichment plants running in a year, then it is almost laughably ambitious - it has taken many years to get the first plant at Natanz running and it still has problems.

But this flurry of announcements reflects the turmoil faced by President Ahmadinejad's government, as they square up for a major day of pro- and anti-government demonstrations on the anniversary of the revolution.

Western countries have criticised Iran for stalling on a deal over its enrichment programme.

The latest development comes days before Iran celebrates the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution on Thursday.

The event is expected to see pro- and anti-government demonstrations.

Witnesses say the situation in the Iranian capital Tehran is increasingly tense, with a series of checkpoints already set up across the city.

Major step

Tehran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna said on Monday he had handed in a formal letter announcing his country's plans to increase enrichment.


URANIUM ENRICHMENT

Iran says it is increasing uranium enrichment from 3.5% needed for commercial nuclear reactors
Says it will enrich to 20%, needed for a research reactor near Tehran
Weapons-grade uranium is at least 90% enriched
Experts say achieving 20% is a key step towards weapons grade


In depth: Nuclear fuel cycle
Iran confuses West again
"Iran's official letter about commencing the 20% enrichment activity in order to provide fuel for the Tehran reactor has been handed over to the IAEA," Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Iranian TV by phone.

Iran earlier appeared ready to exchange its low-enriched uranium for higher-grade foreign fuel but wanted changes to a UN-drafted plan.

Speaking on Sunday evening, Mr Salehi said that enriched uranium production would be halted if Iran received fuel enriched to 20% from abroad.

[link to news.bbc.co.uk]
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