Report: Iran bolsters nuclear facilities ahead of UN negotiations

Iranian nuclear engineers have begun installing more than 100 high-powered nuclear centrifuges at the country's main nuclear enrichment facility in Nataz, according to a confidential report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

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The centrifuges, according to the report, will allow Iran to accelerate refinement of its uranium stockpiles to 20 percent purity — a threshold that observers with the IAEA and those in Washington say is necessary to develop an atomic weapon. 

News of the nuclear facility upgrades comes a week before the fourth round of nuclear talks between Iran and members of the P5+1 group — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany — are set to begin in Kazakhstan, according to Reuters. 

Iran installed 20 similar centrifuges at an underground nuclear facility outside Tehran last May, ahead of negotiations with the U.N. group held that year. 

Aside from the new centrifuges, IAEA officials also said Iran now holds more than 300 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Roughly 500 pounds of enriched uranium is needed to build one nuclear weapon. 

Despite such efforts, Iranian leaders continue to maintain that its nuclear enrichment facilities are strictly geared toward developing a clean-energy resource for the country, and not for weaponization. 

The White House and its allies claim Iran's enrichment efforts are designed to put Tehran on the path to a nuclear weapon. 

That said, U.N. negotiators are preparing to unveil a new slate of proposals designed to entice Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions at the upcoming talks in Kazakhstan. 

Western diplomats on Wednesday refused to discuss the details of the "significant new elements" negotiators plan to put on the table during the talks. 

For their part, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Bloomberg on Wednesday that Tehran is willing to "offer ways to remove concerns” about its nuclear program — but only if U.N. negotiators recognize Iran's right to enrichment. 

Previous rounds of talks with Iran have yielded little progress, which has prompted the Obama administration to suggest bilateral meetings between Washington and Tehran could be an option as a way to break through that diplomatic impasse.