Iran says it will speed up nuclear program

In this Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, an Iranian technician works at the uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran has floated specific dates for reopening talks with the U.S. and other world powers about its nuclear program. At the same time, Tehran has left U.N. nuclear inspectors empty-handed when it comes to addressing Western suspicions that it's conducting tests related to nuclear weapons. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

In this Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, an Iranian technician works at the uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Iran has floated specific dates for reopening talks with the U.S. and other world powers about its nuclear program. At the same time, Tehran has left U.N. nuclear inspectors empty-handed when it comes to addressing Western suspicions that it's conducting tests related to nuclear weapons. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, holds a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. The top commander in Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard has warned that 'nothing will remain' of Israel if it takes military action against Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

AP

Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, holds a press conference in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. The top commander in Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard has warned that "nothing will remain" of Israel if it takes military action against Tehran over its controversial nuclear program. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

VIENNA — In a defiant move ahead of nuclear talks, Iran has announced plans to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment, which can make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads. Eager to avoid scuttling those negotiations, world powers are keeping their response low-key.

Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency of its intentions last week, and the IAEA informed member nations in an internal note seen by The Associated Press on Thursday.

The brief note quoted Iran as saying new-generation IR2m "centrifuge machines ...will be used" to populate a new "unit" — a technical term for an assembly that can consist of as many as 3,132 centrifuges.

It gave no timeframe. A senior diplomat familiar with the issue said work had not started, adding that it would take weeks, if not months, to have the new machines running once technicians started putting them in. He demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge confidential information.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert and former senior official at the U.S. State Department, described the planned upgrade as a potential "game-changer."

"If thousands of the more efficient machines are introduced, the timeline for being able to produce a weapon's worth of fissile material will significantly shorten," said Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"This won't change the several months it would take to make actual weapons out of the fissile material or the two years or more that it would take to be able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, so there is no need to start beating the war drums," he said. "But it will certainly escalate concerns."

The planned upgrade could burden international efforts to coax Tehran into scaling back its nuclear activities and cooperating with the agency's attempts to investigate its suspicions of secret weapons work. Talks are tentatively set for next month with a date and venue still open.

Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms and argues it has a right to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear power program. But suspicion persists that the real aim is nuclear weapons.

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