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Officials: Iran continues to produce items for enriching uranium

Commercial satellite photo of a nuclear facility near Natanz, Iran
Commercial satellite photo of a nuclear facility near Natanz, Iran

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran continues to produce components used to make highly enriched uranium despite the nation's promise to suspend its nuclear program, according to Western diplomats based in Vienna.

Although Iran has shut down its nuclear facility in Natanz and has stopped installing new centrifuges to enrich uranium, the officials said Wednesday, Iran has indicated it will continue to honor existing contracts with local companies who produce the equipment.

Iran has said its nuclear program is designed to meet its energy needs. However, the United States maintains Iran is trying to secretly develop nuclear weapons.

Two weeks ago while easing restrictions on Iran in order to get more aid to earthquake victims, U.S. President Bush urged the Iranian government to "abandon their nuclear weapons program."

After negotiations with European representatives, Iran agreed in November to suspend its enrichment-related activities and to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its facilities.

In December, Iran signed an additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, allowing the IAEA more robust access to its nuclear complexes and research facilities.

Western diplomats tell CNN Iran has made it clear that it intends to keep assembling centrifuge machinery even though it would not be installing the equipment in its nuclear facilities.

These officials said the IAEA is "quietly trying to convince Iran to broaden its suspension."

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency is "in consultations" with Iranian officials about "the scope of their suspension." An official familiar with the consultations said that while Iran has no "legal obligation" to expand its freeze, it would be a good "confidence-building measure" for Iran to unilaterally do so.

An IAEA inspection team is scheduled to visit Iran later this month.

An updated report on Iran's nuclear program will be presented at the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting in March. A Western official said it is "unlikely" Iran will get a "clean bill of health," but the report will most likely show progress made in determining if Iran's nuclear program is in fact for peaceful purposes.

"This is a long process," said this official.

Iran is currently facing a political crisis, with some lawmakers threatening to resign after the state's top clerical body disqualified pro-reform candidates in the upcoming elections. Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with the Guardian Council and told them to review their decisions. (Full story)

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