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Report: Iran close to nuclear capability

NEW YORK, March 9 (UPI) -- Iran has hundreds of gas centrifuges ready to start enriching uranium and has already tested some of them with uranium hexafluoride gas, a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Time Magazine reported Sunday.

The uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, acknowledged by International Atomic Energy director Mohamed elBaradei last month, is closer to production than previously believed, Time reported, citing diplomatic sources. A separate uranium conversion facility near Isfahan is already under IAEA surveillance.

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The IAEA had no comment, the magazine said, but a senior U.S. State Department official said he believed the IAEA was trying to resolve the issue of a possible violation of the the Non-Proliferation Treaty behind the scenes.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Israel is known to be deeply concerned. One Israeli official told Time that since Iran denies Israel's right to exist and is a principal sponsor of Hezbollah a nuclear potential could be extremely dangerous.

Iran's progress toward the capability to generate its own fissionable material further complicates the effort by Washington to assemble a consensus among its allies for a multilateral reaction to North Korea's nuclear capability. North Korea, like Iran, appears to have accelerated its development program after being included by President Bush in his "Axis of Evil" trio, the magazine said.

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