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Technical glitches may be troubling Iran's nuclear efforts

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported Tuesday that Iran temporarily stopped nuclear enrichment this month. Experts suggest technical difficulties may be the cause.

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In this Aug. 23 photo released by the International Iran Photo Agency, technicians work at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. UN nuclear inspectors say that Iran halted most of its uranium enrichment because of technical difficulties.

Ebrahim Norouzi/IIPA/AP

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Iran stopped the bulk of its uranium enrichment for a time this month, UN nuclear inspectors stated Tuesday amid reports that technical difficulties are afflicting Iran’s nuclear efforts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found that all of Iran’s 8,426 centrifuges dedicated to enriching uranium to 3.5 percent purity were idle during a visit on Nov. 16. Earlier in the month it found 4,816 of them spinning, and on Monday Iran informed the IAEA that some 4,600 were working again.

The IAEA gave no explanation for the temporary halt in its quarterly report on Iran, though Western diplomats and a former top IAEA official have suggested in recent days that long-standing technical problems may have come to a head.

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Iran denies any technical difficulties, and Iranian officials claim to have blocked any impact from the Stuxnet computer worm, which Western security and nuclear analysts suggested last week had been designed to impede the supersonic spinning speeds of centrifuges, causing some to spin out of control.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that “enemies" had failed to infect critical systems with the virus.

“[Westerners] angrily disclosed the issue [of Stuxnet] when they did not obtain their goals,” Mr. Salehi was quoted saying by Iranian media Tuesday. “This shows that Iranian scientists and engineers are pressing ahead with complete vigilance.”

UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to stop all enrichment work until it resolves outstanding questions about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. Iran is meant to sit down with the US and other world powers for long-delayed nuclear talks on Dec. 5.

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