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UN increases pressure over Iran nuclear activites


Iran was under increased diplomatic pressure on Friday after an International Atomic Energy Agency report said it was expanding its controversial nuclear program and had "hampered" the UN watchdog's work.

The newly released report says Iran is doubling the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it has in an underground bunker, prompting an Iranian lawmaker Friday to decry the report as politically motivated.

The IAEA report issued Thursday evening while Tehran was hosting the Non-Aligned Movement summit indicated that despite threat of an Israeli or US military strike on Tehran's nuclear facilities, the Islamic Republic was rapidly increasing the enrichment capacity of its Fordow site, buried deep underground to withstand any such hit.

"Publishing this report while Iran is holding the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting does not mean anything other than it was a political move aimed at overshadowing the meeting in Tehran," lawmaker Kazem Jalali told the ISNA news agency.

The report also said that UN inspectors wanting to see part of a military base in Parchin, outside Tehran, which is suspected of hosting tests of explosives that could be used in a nuclear warhead, had been "significantly hampered" by months of refused access, what looked like intensive scrubbing and scraping at the site, and the use of covers to shield the site from satellite cameras.

Iran's uranium enrichment, and its Fordo bunker, were two of the key points raised in negotiations this year by the P5+1 – the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany – that have all but stalled.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, representing the P5+1, is to talk with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili "in the coming days," Ashton's spokesman said on Thursday.

Iranian officials have dismissed the UN concerns over their nuclear activities, saying that Parchin was an off-limits military base, that the focus on it was overblown and that suspicions about its atomic program were based on "false" Western intelligence.

Ban, on his first visit to Iran as UN secretary general, this week told Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad their country needed to take concrete steps to allay international concerns, notably by complying with the IAEA and with UN resolutions.

He warned about bellicose rhetoric from Israel and Iran that has been rising in recent weeks, saying "a war of words can quickly spiral into a war of violence."

In a speech at an Iranian diplomats' college on Thursday, he also warned about the "cost of Iran's current trajectory," saying that "any country at odds with the international community... finds itself isolated from the thrust of common progress."

Israel – which possess the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal – has in the last weeks upped its fiery rhetoric and threats against Iran to create the impression that they are poised to launch imminent strikes on the Islamic nation.

The worsening showdown added to other issues overshadowing the NAM summit in Tehran.

A key one has been the hosts' steadfast support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his regime's deadly 18-month conflict with rebel fighters.

On Thursday, Egypt's new President Mohammed Mursi – making the first trip to Iran by an Egyptian head of state since the 1979 Islamic revolution – used the summit to openly voice his support for the Syrian opposition.

The "oppressive" Syrian regime had lost all legitimacy and was confronted with the same pro-democracy rebellions that had swept the Arab world, including Egypt, since 2010, he said, as Ahmadinejad listened stone-faced.

(AFP, Reuters)

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