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Iran unveils nuclear progress

In this April 8, 2008, file photo  released by the Iranian President's Office, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, center, listens to a technician during his visit of the  Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, it appears that world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent, an action that many fear might trigger war, terrorism and global economic havoc. (AP Photo/File)

TEHRAN, February 15 (AFP): Iran announced new strides on Wednesday in its nuclear programme, in a defiant blow to US and EU pressure to rein in its atomic activities and amid signs of an increasingly vicious covert war with Israel over the issue. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on state television what was said to be Iran's first domestically produced, 20-percent enriched nuclear fuel for Tehran's research reactor.
He also said 3,000 more centrifuges had been added to his country's uranium enrichment effort. Officials said new-generation centrifuges had been installed at Iran's Natanz nuclear facilities that are able to produce three times more enriched uranium.
The developments underlined Tehran's determination to forge ahead with its nuclear activities despite increasingly tough sanctions from the West -- and speculation that Israel or the United States could be months from launching military strikes against it. Iran portrayed the advances as evidence it was only interested in peaceful nuclear goals, under the slogan "nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none."
But the steps challenged the basis of four sets of UN sanctions and a raft of unilateral US and EU sanctions designed to halt a programme much of the West fears masks a drive for atomic weapons. Israel, which is the region's sole but undeclared nuclear power and feels its existence is threatened by a nuclear Iran, is widely held to have been carrying out clandestine acts against its arch foe.
Those acts have included the murder of four Iranian scientists by unidentified motorbike assailants in the past two years and the deployment of a highly sophisticated computer virus, Stuxnet, which damaged many of Iran's centrifuges. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in those acts. But it has accused Iran of targeting its diplomats in different countries after bomb attacks or plots uncovered in India, Georgia and Thailand this week.
One Israeli diplomat in New Delhi was gravely hurt when a bomb attached to her car blew up. In Bangkok, two Iranians were in custody. One of them lost his legs after he unsuccessfully tried to throw a bomb at police as he fled. Iran has denied any role in those incidents. Observers, though, see possible payback occurring and believe Iran and Israel could now be caught up in a cycle of retribution that each has condemned as "terrorism" by the other side.
Attempts to defuse the soaring tensions through dialogue appear to be making little headway. Iran has repeatedly said it is ready to resume talks with world powers that collapsed a year ago. And on Wednesday, it said had finally replied to a letter sent nearly four months ago by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton proposing a return to the talks.

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