International warnings against Iran after it enriched uranium by 20%

World rolls up sleeves to impose sanctions on Iran within weeks

Bahrain FM says protection of region does not pose threat to anyone

U.S. sets up panels to investigate Bin Laden, companions

Yemen: Al-Qaeda’s threats do not scare us, won’t tolerate terror

Iran announced on Tuesday it has begun work to enrich uranium to 20 percent, dismissing warnings of new sanctions from world powers who suspect the sensitive nuclear project is aimed at making a bomb.

The announcement sent alarm bells ringing in the West, with the United States saying it added urgency to its efforts to clinch new sanctions against Tehran.

"From today we have started the 20 percent enrichment... in Natanz," Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi told the official IRNA news agency.

Experts say that once Iran enriches uranium to 20 percent, it can then proceed to the 93 percent needed to produce nuclear weapons since the technology is the same.

Russia, Iran's long-time nuclear partner, questioned its intentions.

"Iran's decision to start its own enrichment of uranium... heightens doubts on the sincerity of Iran's intentions to end the international community's existing concerns" over its nuclear program, a foreign ministry statement said.

Earlier, news agencies quoted Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian national security council, as saying: "Iran claims it is not trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

"But actions such as starting to enrich low-enriched uranium up to 20 percent raise doubts in other countries and these doubts are fairly well-grounded."

In Paris, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, winding up a visit to France, said Washington is now aiming for a fresh UN sanctions resolution against Iran in "a matter of weeks, not months."

"(Gates) thinks that we need it and that we can do it in that time," Morrell added. "In all his meetings he discussed this sense of urgency."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added to the clamor, calling for immediate "crippling sanctions" against arch-foe Iran.

The UN nuclear watchdog said a team of its inspectors was in place to monitor the stepped-up enrichment work.

"I can confirm that officials are there in Natanz today," said a spokesman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "What they find and assess will be reported to the board."

Iran has conducted low-level enrichment of uranium in the central city of Natanz for several years, in defiance of three sets of UN sanctions.

Western powers suspect Tehran is enriching uranium to make atomic weapons as the material in highly purified form can be used in the fissile core of a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

Salehi in his announcement said the project involved the use of 164 centrifuges, which rotate at supersonic speed to enrich uranium.

"This can make between three to five kilograms (6.5 to 11 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium per month for the Tehran reactor," he said of Iran's internationally supervised facility which produces medical isotopes.

Enrichment is the process to boost the percentage in uranium of the uranium-235 isotope, which splits in a chain reaction and releases energy.

The West is trying to convince Iran to sign on to an IAEA-brokered deal that envisages it being supplied with fuel for the Tehran reactor in exchange for its low-enriched uranium (LEU).

The deal has hit a roadblock as Tehran, despite saying it is ready "in principle" to agree, insists that not all its LEU be shipped out at once as world powers demand.

Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Tuesday left the door open for a deal, saying the stepped-up enrichment did not preclude a swap.

"If other countries or the IAEA meet our needs, maybe we can change our approach... The door is not closed yet. Any time they (world powers) are ready, this (fuel deal) can be done," he told reporters.

Salehi too reiterated on Tuesday that "Iran is ready for the unconditional exchange. If this deal takes place in time we are ready to stop this process (20 percent enrichment)."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meanwhile will visit Iran next week in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution. "The proposal is still valid... We believe there is still an important chance" for peace, he said in Ankara.

China also expressed hopes that the impasse can be resolved. "We hope the relevant parties will exchange views on the draft deal on the Tehran research reactor and reach common ground at an early date which will help solve the issue," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in Beijing.

In Washington, Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa acknowledged that Gulf military defenses were being upgraded but urged Iran not to see them as plans for attack.

During a press conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sheikh Khaled did not specify what security measures were being taken but appeared to confirm reports about a stronger US military presence in the region.

US newspapers said the Obama administration is placing ships with missile-targeting capabilities off Iran’s coast, and anti-missile systems in at least four Gulf states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.

The reported moves come amid stalemate over US-led diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The United States commitment to its allies and its partners is evident,” Sheikh Khaled told reporters, recalling a long history of security cooperation.

“We’re not seeing anything new. Nobody is saber-rattling here. Nobody is being belligerent to anyone in the region,” he said after a journalist referred to the reports of new anti-missile systems in the region.

“It’s just a purely defensive measure for the benefit of the world, for the region being so important to the whole world,” he added, referring to the biggest oil-exporting region in the world.

Bahrain’s chief diplomat acknowledged security for the region “is being developed. It’s being upgraded. New technology is coming in.”

But he added: “We expect Iran not to see it as a measure being taken against it. This is a measure to protect. It’s not a measure to attack.”

In Tehran, Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Larijani Tuesday slammed plans by the United States to beef up defenses in the Gulf against potential Iranian missile attacks, insisting the Islamic republic is no threat to its neighbors.

“America’s new puppet show for protecting and implementing security in the region is nothing but a new political trick to pave the way for its presence at others’ expense,” Larijani said in comments carried by the state broadcaster.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden's son has warned that if his father were killed, the al Qaeda leaders who succeed him are likely to be far worse, ABC News reported Thursday.

"From what I knew of my father and the people around him I believe he is the most kind among them, because some are much, much worse," Omar bin Laden said in an interview with ABC News.

"Their mentality wants to make more violence, to create more problems," he said.

But Omar, who wrote a book about his experiences called "Growing Up Bin Laden," said he and his brothers broke with their father when he encouraged them to become suicide bombers.

"We were shocked. Why would our father say something like this to us? After he went away we just talked about it and said this was never going to happen, this was not our way," he said.

Bin Laden, who has eluded a U.S. manhunt since masterminding the September 11 attacks on the United States, recently broke his silence in an audio message praising Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

In the ABC News interview, Omar Bin Laden criticized his father's message.

"Attacking peaceful people is not being fair, it is unacceptable.

If you have a problem with armies or governments you should fight those people. This is what I find unacceptable in my father's way," Omar said.

"My father should find some letter to send to all of these people, at least to tell them they shouldn't attack the civilians," he said.

Asked whether there was anything his father liked about the United States, Omar said "their weapons," and nothing else, according to ABC News.

In Sana’a, the Yemeni government on Tuesday dismissed Al-Qaeda threats and said it will strike the militants "around the clock," after the group's local branch called for attacks on US interests worldwide.

Yemen "will not be intimidated by Al-Qaeda threats," the interior ministry said in a statement. "Security forces will continue to combat any violation of the law and will strike terrorist hideouts wherever they are found."

On Monday, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) second-in-command, Said al-Shihri, called for attacks on "American and Crusader interests" around the globe.

Shihri also said AQAP aims to gain control of the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, which connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, and called for cooperation between AQAP and the Somali militant group Al-Shebab.

Al-Qaeda threats "do not frighten the security forces" and the threats "reflect the isolation and despair of terrorist elements in Yemen," the interior ministry said.

"There is no truce with the terrorists," it said. Yemen's security forces will "track terrorist elements throughout Yemen, around the clock."