Iran: Atomic work near peak
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Iran: Atomic work near peak
Iran's nuclear work is almost at its "peak", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday while the head of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog said Iran was probably at least three years from making a nuclear bomb if it so chooses.
Iran's Natanz nuclear complex is about 300 kilometers south of the capital.
President Ahmadinejad says Iran's nuclear work almost at its "peak"
• IAEA: Iran at least three years from making a nuclear bomb if it so chooses
• U.S. President Bush calls for stronger round of U.N. sanctions against Iran
TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's nuclear work is almost at its "peak", President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday while the head of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog said Iran was probably at least three years from making a nuclear bomb if it so chooses.
Ahmadinejad dismissed Western pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear drive.
"With God's help the path to completely enjoying all nuclear capacity is near its end and we are close to the peak," Ahmadinejad said at a rally in the central town of Isfahan. (Watch how U.S. ships are putting pressure on Iran) =
"The Iranian nation today has industrial nuclear technology and ... it will never retreat even one step from this path," he told the cheering crowd in a speech broadcast on television.
The Islamic Republic denies seeking nuclear weapons and says its program is aimed purely at generating electricity.
Underlining what he said was the growing risk of a major confrontation between the West and Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency head mohamed ElBaradei appealed for the two sides to restart negotiations on a compromise as soon as possible.
"I tend, based on our analysis, to agree with people like John Negroponte and the new director of the CIA, who are saying that even if Iran wanted to go for a nuclear weapon, it would not be before the end of this decade or sometime in the middle of the next decade. In other words three to eight years from now," ElBaradei told a news conference in Luxembourg.
"Iran needs to suspend its enrichment activities as a confidence-building measure but the international community should do its utmost to engage Iran in comprehensive dialogue," ElBaradei told a conference on nuclear non-proliferation.
The IAEA said in a report on Wednesday that Iran was making substantial advances in uranium enrichment. Several months ago, ElBaradei predicted Iran was four to eight years away from the capability to produce an atom bomb.
U.S. President George W. Bush said Washington would work with the European, Russian and Chinese leaders to impose a third, stronger round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.
"The first thing that these leaders have got to understand is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing for the world. It's in their interests that we work collaboratively to continue to isolate that regime," he told a news conference.
Major powers last year offered Iran trade, technical and other incentives to suspend uranium enrichment. But negotiations proved fruitless and were called off before the U.N. Security Council imposed a first set of sanctions on Tehran.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told parliament in Berlin that offer was still on the table, but if Iran did not meet its international obligations "the Security Council of the United Nations will continue to act decisively".
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been charged with assessing the scope for returning to negotiations. He is expected to meet chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in Madrid late next week.
The IAEA report, like predecessors, said the agency had seen no evidence that Iran was trying to "weaponize" nuclear material or of undeclared nuclear facilities operating in the country.
But ElBaradei voiced concern Tehran was moving towards confrontation with the international community by accelerating its nuclear program, and said his top priority was to prevent Iran achieving industrial-scale production of enriched uranium.
Nine U.S. warships sailed into the Gulf on Wednesday for maneuvers to display impatience with Tehran, which Washington also accuses of backing insurgents in Iraq. Iran denies the charge.