updated 10/25/2006 6:03:55 PM ET 2006-10-25T22:03:55

Iran has expanded its controversial nuclear work by starting a second cascade of centrifuges to enrich uranium, a semiofficial news agency reported Wednesday.

The news came as world powers moved toward introducing a draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would impose limited sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to cease enrichment — a process that can produce material for nuclear power reactors or weapons.

The Iranian Students News Agency quoted an anonymous official Wednesday as saying that Iran had started a second cascade of centrifuges two weeks ago and that “gas will be injected into the cascade during the current week.”

“We will exploit the new product from the injection,” ISNA quoted the official as saying, meaning that Iran would use the enriched uranium obtained by inserting gas into the centrifuges.

The report could not be immediately corroborated as Iranian officials were off for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Neither the official Islamic Republic News Agency nor state television and radio carried the report by ISNA, an agency that receives state funding via the national universities.

Diplomats in Vienna said this week that Iran has started its second cascade of centrifuges in Natanz. The move violates a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog group that has required that Iran cease all enrichment-related activity.

Iran insists nuclear activity is peaceful
The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. But Iran denies this, saying its program is strictly for the generation of electricity. The country ignored an Aug. 31 deadline to cease enrichment.

European diplomats said the proposed U.N. sanctions — banning the sale of missile and atomic technology to Iran and ending most U.N. help for its nuclear programs — are narrowly focused in hopes of winning Russian and Chinese backing. The diplomats spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the draft resolution is not yet public.

The United States has consistently pushed for tough sanctions, and Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said there would be “American changes to the proposed European text.” He refused to elaborate.

China and Russia, which can veto Security Council resolutions, are reportedly pushing for continued dialogue with Iran instead of punishment.

In Washington, President Bush said more talks are not possible until Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment. “If they would verifiably stop their enrichment, the United States would be at the table with them,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “no choice” but to pursue sanctions against Iran after Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, calling it “regrettable” that Iran has not responded to the demands of the international community.

3,000 centrifuges planned by 2007
Iran produced a small batch of enriched uranium in February from a cascade of 164 centrifuges at its nuclear plant at Natanz in central Iran. Iran says it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz by the end of this year.

Production of enough uranium to fuel a reactor would require 54,000 centrifuges. Although Iran is nowhere near that goal, its successful operation of more cascades of centrifuges indicates the country is gradually mastering the complexities of producing enriched uranium.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday his country’s nuclear capability had increased tenfold despite Western pressure.

“The enemies, resorting to propaganda, want to block us from achieving (nuclear technology). But they should know that today, the capability of our nation has multiplied tenfold over the same period last year,” Ahmadinejad said.

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