Iran breaks U.N. seals at Natanz

iran nuclearTue Jan 10, 2006 8:50 AM GMT, BERLIN (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed on Tuesday that Iran had broken U.N. seals at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, setting the stage for a showdown between the Islamic republic and the West.

"The Iranians have begun removing (U.N.) seals at Natanz in the presence of IAEA inspectors," said a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

"We are in contact with our inspectors in Iran and once we get the full details we will report these to the (agency’s) board of governors today."

She said she had no further details. One European Union diplomat told Reuters on Monday Iran intended to begin producing nuclear fuel using 164 centrifuges at Natanz.

Centrifuges are machines that purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants or weapons. The United States and EU suspect Iran wants to enrich uranium for bombs, though Tehran denies the charge.

Diplomats from France, Britain and Germany said on Monday they would probably call for an emergency session of the IAEA’s 35-nation board if Iran removed the IAEA seals at Natanz.

They said the board would discuss whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions.