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Iran accelerates uranium enrichment: Danger or bluff?

Western experts aren't sure why Iran is speeding up its nuclear enrichment. Is it bravado for domestic political consumption or a genuine move toward developing weapons that can be hidden from attack?

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference in Tehran Tuesday June 7, 2011. No offer from world powers could persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium, President Ahmadinejad said.

Caren Firouz/Reuters

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Iran’s announcement this week that it plans to speed up its enrichment of uranium – and to move part of its enrichment process from the desert to a more defensible mountain site – has spawned wide-ranging speculation on Tehran’s nuclear intentions.

If Iranian officials made the point of publicly announcing the plans after a ministerial meeting Wednesday, the intention was to promote the world’s gradual acceptance of Iran eventually developing a nuclear weapon, some nuclear experts say.

Another line of thinking is that the plans to develop more efficient and higher grade uranium-producing machines at a site inside the mountains near the city of Qom suggest the Iranians are preparing their program to be able to withstand an eventual attack by Israeli or American bombers.

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Speculation aside, what seems clear is that Iran is intent on accelerating production of what is currently its highest grade of uranium – 20 percent enriched – to expand its options in the face of international demands that it cease enrichment altogether.

“They’re shortening their decision time” between amassing the enriched uranium it would take to begin building a nuclear weapon and actually moving forward with building one, says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington.

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