Paris. The top Iranian atomic energy official was quoted Wednesday as saying that his country had begun to install more sophisticated enrichment devices at its Natanz nuclear site. The development coincided with the start of a new round of talks with negotiators from the UN nuclear watchdog.
Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, said scientists began putting in the new centrifuges last month, according to the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency.
"We have produced the machines as planned, and we are carrying out the installation gradually, to complete the tests relevant to the new generation," he was quoted as saying.
Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear regulatory body, late last month that it planned to install the new equipment at Natanz, southeast of Tehran, to speed up the production of enriched uranium, a move that seemed likely to worry the United States, Israel and the West.
But another Iranian news agency, Fars, quoted Mr Abbasi as saying that the new centrifuges were designed to enrich uranium to a purity of less than 5 percent, not to the 20 percent level that prompts concerns about use in nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Iran said that it was converting some of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium into reactor fuel. Diplomats in Vienna said that once that is done, it is difficult to re-convert it for weapons. Some analysts argue that, by slowing the growth of its stockpile, Tehran could be delaying the moment when it reaches a size large enough to prompt military action by Israel, which has signalled readiness to attack Iran's nuclear sites pre-emptively. Iran denies that it is seeking the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon.
Iranian officials met in Tehran on Wednesday with Herman Nackaerts, the deputy director of the UN atomic agency, who has been pressing for months to gain access to a restricted military area at Parchin, 20 miles south of Tehran. International inspectors suspect that the site may have been used for testing bomb triggers.
"Differences remain, but we will work hard to try to resolve these differences," Mr Nackaerts told reporters in Vienna before departing for Tehran, according to IRNA, the Iranian state news agency.
The Iranian Students' News Agency reported from Tehran late in the afternoon that the two sides completed a day of talks, but that no specifics had emerged.