Senior Iran lawmaker says 20 pct uranium enrichment continuing

Reuters

DUBAI, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Iran has not halted its mostsensitive uranium enrichment work, a senior Iranianparliamentarian said, contradicting a statement by anotherlawmaker last week.

Diplomats accredited to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said onFriday they had no information to substantiate the report thatTehran had halted enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. Israel also dismissed the original report as "irrelevant".

Any halt of enrichment would be a big surprise, as Westernexperts believe Iran would want to use such activity as abargaining chip to win relief from international sanctions.

An end to Iran's higher-grade enrichment of uranium is amain demand of world powers negotiating with Tehran over itsdisputed nuclear work. Enriching uranium to 20 percent issensitive as it is a relatively short technical step to increasethat to the 90 percent needed for making a nuclear weapon.

"Enrichment to 20 percent is continuing," state news agencyIRNA quoted Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament'snational security and foreign policy committee, as saying onSaturday.

His statement contradicted that of another senior lawmaker,Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, who had said Iran had stopped enrichinguranium above 5 percent because it already had all the 20percent enriched fuel it needs for a medical research reactor inTehran.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saidthe real debate should be about dismantling Iran's entirenuclear programme.

"We are not impressed by the discourse around the issue of20 percent enrichment. The Iranians are deliberately focusingthe debate on this issue - it is irrelevant," Netanyahu said inpublic remarks to his cabinet.

At the United Nations last year, Netanyahu focused onstockpiles of uranium enriched to 20 percent in drawing a redline on a cartoon bomb that set a threshold for possible Israelimilitary action against Iran.

But Netanyahu told the cabinet that technological advancesin Iran in the past year, in the form of advanced centrifuges,enabled it to "leap above the barrier of 20 percent enrichmentand go directly from 3.5 percent enrichment to (military-grade)90 percent within weeks".

Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, are engaged innegotiations to bring about a diplomatic resolution to thedispute, which has raised fears of a new conflict in the MiddleEast and brought punishing sanctions on Iran's energy, shipping,and banking sectors.

Their last meeting was held in October in Geneva, andanother one is scheduled for November.

Netanyahu, whose country is widely believed to be the MiddleEast's only nuclear power, has cautioned against any prematurelifting of sanctions in the new diplomatic engagement with Iran.

"Iran must be stripped of its enrichment capability and itsheavy water plant," said Netanyahu, who discussed Iran with U.S.Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday.

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