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Iran Begins Uranium Enrichment

Iran has started small-scale enrichment of uranium — a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or bombs, diplomats said Monday.

"Uranium gas has been fed into three machines," one senior diplomat familiar with Iran's nuclear file told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

To produce significant amounts of enriched uranium, gas must be fed into hundreds of such machines. Uranium enriched to a low degree can be used for nuclear reactors, while highly enriched uranium is suitable for warheads.

In a related development, Iran's negotiations with Russia over its plan to enrich uranium on its soil have been indefinitely postponed, the country's presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said Monday.

The talks, which were to have resumed Thursday, have been postponed and will reconvene at a time of "mutual agreement," Elham told reporters.

Elham said the negotiations had been postponed because of the "new situation," a reference to the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision earlier this month to report Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran strongly protested the referral, which Russia, a long time ally, supported. However, Russia's foreign minister warned against threatening Iran over its nuclear program after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly agreed with a German interviewer that all options, including military response, remained on the table.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to continue with Tehran, adding: "I think that at the current stage, it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats."

The Russian government had proposed that Iran ship its uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched to a level suitable for nuclear reactors, and then returned to Iran to be used in its Russian-built reactor at Bushehr, which is due to go on stream later this year.

"Our proposal on creating a joint enterprise remains in force," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak was quoted as saying at that time. "Its fulfillment is possible if Iran returns to the moratorium, as is set out in the resolution adopted by the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

The plan was an attempt to avoid international objections to Iran's enriching uranium, a process that can also produce material for nuclear weapons.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb under cover of a peaceful nuclear program. Iran denies this, insisting its program is confined to the generation of electricity.

Before the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Iran to the Security Council, Iran had said the Russian plan did not fulfill its requirements but was worth pursuing further in negotiations.

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