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Iran 'fires up nuclear processors'

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TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran has resumed its uranium enrichment program by building a second cascade of centrifuges and injecting gas into the system over the past few weeks despite threats of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran's semi-official news agency ISNA reported on Friday.

The news brought an immediate response from U.S. President George W. Bush, who said he was aware of the "speculation" that Iran has started enriching uranium in a second network of centrifuges and said it was unacceptable for Tehran to have a nuclear weapon.

"Whether they doubled it or not, the idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable," Bush said.

But Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said it was too early to speak about Iran being able to produce weapons-grade uranium, and that he "did not share the concerns about this".

"These are empty centrifuges, you can't produce anything with them, so to speak about enriching uranium is premature," Ivanov said, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The reports of the centrifuges being restarted came almost two months after Tehran ignored an August 31 U.N. Security Council deadline demanding it halt its nuclear program.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly said uranium enrichment is his country's right and will not be abandoned, despite Western fears that Iran's goal is to build nuclear weapons.

ISNA reported the International Atomic Energy Agency's director-general Mohamed ElBaradei is fully aware of the injection of gas and the agency's inspectors are currently present in Iran.

ElBaradei reportedly said the second cascade has already produced its product but no uranium has been introduced into the new system yet. However, it could be added into the system in upcoming days, he is quoted as saying.

Iran had been conducting a small-scale research enrichment program using 164 centrifuges at its Natanz facilities and has now doubled its capacity, ISNA reported. The news agency also said the country's centrifuges are projected to number 3,000 by March 2007.

The news of Iran's resumed program comes while six major powers have been meeting at the United Nations to review a draft Security Council resolution mandating sanctions against the Islamic republic over its flaunting of the U.N. deadline.



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