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UN official discounts Iran claim

Asserts only 328 centrifuges online

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Iran is operating only several hundred centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, despite its claims to have activated 3,000.

Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran's nuclear program was a concern, but he discounted Tehran's claims of a major advance in uranium enrichment, a process the United Nations demands Iran suspend or face further sanctions.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran had announced Monday that the Natanz facility had begun "industrial-scale" production of nuclear fuel. Iran's top nuclear negotiator said workers had begun injecting uranium gas into a new array of 3,000 centrifuges, many more than the 328 centrifuges known to be operating at Natanz.

Iran ultimately aims to operate more than 50,000 of the devices at the site.

But ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, said "Iran is still just at the beginning stages in setting up its Natanz enrichment facility."