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Israel dismisses reports Iran halting higher-grade enrichment

An official from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization speaks on his mobile phone in front of uranium enriching centrifuges at an exhibition of
An official from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization speaks on his mobile phone in front of uranium enriching centrifuges at an exhibition of

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Saturday dismissed as "irrelevant" reports that Iran had halted its most sensitive uranium enrichment activity, and said Tehran's nuclear program must be dismantled.

A senior member of Iran's parliamentary national security commission was quoted as saying Iran had stopped refining uranium above the 5 percent required for civilian power stations, as it already had all the 20-percent enriched fuel it needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

But diplomats accredited to the U.N. nuclear watchdog said they had no confirmation Iran had halted enrichment of uranium to 20 percent - a sensitive issue because it is a relatively short technical step to increase that to the 90 percent needed to make a nuclear warhead.

"The discussion on whether or not Iran has ceased 20 percent enrichment is irrelevant," said an Israeli official.

Israel fears its arch enemy Iran is developing atomic weapons capability, and has hinted it could attack the Islamic republic to prevent it from getting the bomb. Iran says its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.

"Even if Iran stopped 20 percent enrichment, it is still equipped with advanced centrifuges that allow it to go from a level of 3.5 percent enrichment to a military grade 90 percent within a few weeks," the official added.

World powers seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear dispute with Iran want it to stop enrichment. Iran indicated in talks that resumed in Geneva last week that it might scale back its program to win sanctions relief.

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only atomic power, says Iran must be stripped of enrichment capabilities.

"The international community must ensure the complete dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program, and until then sanctions must be stepped up," said the Israeli official.

Western officials have said Iran must stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, increase the transparency of its nuclear program, reduce its uranium stocks and take other steps to reassure the world that it is not after nuclear weapons.

Iran and six world powers - the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany - said that this month's talks in Geneva were positive and constructive. Negotiations are due to resume there on November 7-8.

The meeting was the first since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to office in August promising to try to resolve the nuclear dispute and secure an easing of sanctions that have severely damaged Iran's oil-dependent economy.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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