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U.S. official: Uranium enrichment parts found in Iran

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

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Inspectors find more sophisticated uranium centrifuge parts in Iran than the type Tehran has admitted to having.
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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- International inspectors have discovered uranium enrichment centrifuge parts in Iran that are much more sophisticated than the type Tehran has admitted to having, a senior Bush administration official said Thursday.

International Atomic Energy Agency officials found "P-2" centrifuge parts that are "far superior, more sophisticated than anything" that the Iranians have revealed publicly, the official said.

A P-2 centrifuge can produce much more uranium appropriate for production of nuclear weapons than a P-1, which the nation confirms it has.

In Tehran, Hamid Reza Assefi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, denied Iran had the sophisticated centrifuges.

"There are no P-2 centrifuges in Iran, either at civilian or military installations," he told reporters.

Assefi repeated the Iranian contention that the country's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Officials with the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, declined to comment.

Administration officials say the P-2 parts are similar to those found in Libya, and might have been obtained by Iran through the nuclear black market sales organized by the institute headed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. However, the officials caution that the source of the materials is not known at this time.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan would not say whether the administration had specific information about a new IAEA discovery in Iran.

But he said the White House was tracking reports that the IAEA had discovered new information about "enrichment activities or technology" and said that "underscored our serious concerns. We have long said our belief is Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program under the cover" of a civilian energy program.

He said it is critical that the IAEA press for more answers from Iran.

The newspaper USA Today, which first reported the story, said the discovery was made at Doshen-Tappen Airbase in Iran. Senior officials told CNN they could not confirm that. One official warned against "leaping to conclusions" about who made or designed the centrifuge parts.

A report on IAEA inspections in Iran is expected to be given to the agency's board of governors March 8. The United States might ask that the agency refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, although U.S. officials say they have not yet made that decision.

From National Security Correspondent David Ensor, White House Correspondent John King and Producer Elise Labott:

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