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Gates urges global pressure on Iran

French defense official also backs sanctions

BEIRUT, Lebanon – As Iran moved to enrich uranium to a higher level of purity and build new nuclear-fuel plants, U.S. and French defense officials suggested Monday that sanctions were needed to force Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Speaking in Paris, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates again dismissed military action, but said that given Iran’s rejections of Western proposals, the international community needed to apply some pressure.

“We must still try and find a peaceful way to resolve this issue. The only path that is left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track,” Gates said, “but it will require all of the international community to work together.”

Iran’s envoy to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said his nation would begin enriching fuel for a Tehran medical reactor today amid heightened international concern over Iran’s atomic research program and rising internal political discord.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said Monday that Iran had informed inspectors the country intended to begin further refining its uranium.

Iranian officials trumpeted an array of new nuclear and military ambitions Monday ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, traditionally a nationalistic pro-government festival that Iran’s opposition movement has vowed to turn into an anti-government rally.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, announced that Tehran informed the IAEA that it intended to launch construction of 10 new nuclear-fuel plants in the Persian calendar year starting March 2010.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin on Monday said the international community has made efforts to engage in peaceful dialogue with Iran involving “full transparency.”

“It’s led to nothing,” Morin said, “and we note, sadly, that we must start a dialogue with the international community that will lead to sanctions if Iran doesn’t stop.”

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