Iran recently attempted to purchase tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
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The attempted acquisition indicates that the country is "planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability," said the Post.
According to the report, nuclear researchers obtained purchase orders showing Iran tried buying 100,000 ring-shaped magnets from China last year. However, the Washington Post added, it was unclear as to whether the attempt succeeded.
The magnets in question are banned from export to Iran under UN resolutions.
The report, which cited experts and diplomats, noted that Iran has on various occasions attempted to acquire banned items, but that this case is considered unusual due to "the order’s specificity and sheer size - enough magnets in theory to outfit 50,000 new centrifuges, or nearly five times the number that Iran currently operates."
Analysts cited by the Washington Post said the disclosure of new orders for nuclear-sensitive parts coincides with Iran's announcement of plans to add thousands of more-advanced, second-generation centrifuges that would allow it further expand its production of enriched uranium.
IAEA: Talks hit roadblock
Thursday's article came as the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it saw no point in continuing its talks with Iran at this point, after the two sides failed to reach common ground on the issue of Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
"We will work hard now to try and resolve the remaining differences, but time is needed to reflect on the way forward," IAEA chief inspector Herman Nackaerts said Thursday in Vienna on his return from Iran.
He said the IAEA team and Iranian officials had failed to agree on conditions under which the IAEA would get access to nuclear officials, documents and sites, including the Parchin military site where nuclear weapons parts were allegedly tested.
No date for a new meeting was set.
Nackaert's statement contrasted with comments by Iran's IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who said Wednesday that some disagreements were now settled, and who talked about a new meeting at an unspecified time.
The unsuccessful outcome of Wednesday's talks came less than two weeks before the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany are scheduled to restart wider ranging nuclear negotiations with Iran on February 26 in Kazakhstan.
Iran should show flexibility in the upcoming negotiations in order to achieve "substantial progress," EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said Wednesday at the Security Council.
The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany want Iran to come clean on its nuclear program and to halt uranium enrichment, fearing it might be used to make nuclear weapons.
In return, the six-party group that is led by Ashton has offered a limited set of technical cooperation projects.