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Iran may be set to boost its nuclear program

VIENNA — Iran is on the threshold of being able to create weapons-grade uranium at a plant it has heavily fortified against Israeli attack, diplomats told the Associated Press on Thursday, calling into question an Israeli assertion that Iran had slowed its nuclear time table.

One of three diplomats who discussed the issue said Iran was now technically ready within days to ramp up its production of 20 percent enriched uranium at its Fordo facility by nearly 700 centrifuges. That would double present output and cut in half the time it would take to acquire enough of the substance needed to make a nuclear weapon, reducing it to just over three months.

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Such a move would raise the stakes for Israel, which has said it believes the world has until next summer to stop Iran before it can get nuclear material and implied it would have time to decide whether to strike Fordo and other nuclear facilities.

The two other diplomats who spoke to the AP could not confirm the 700 number. But both agreed that Tehran over the past few months had put a sizeable number of centrifuges at Fordo under vacuum. It takes only a few days to begin enrichment with machines that are under vacuum.

While experts agree that the Islamic Republic could assemble enough weapons-grade uranium to arm a nuclear weapon relatively quickly, they point out that this is only one of a series of steps need to create a working weapon. They say that Tehran is believed to be years away from mastering the technology to manufacture a fully operational warhead.

All three diplomats are from member nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is scheduled to release its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program as early as Friday. They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the matter.

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