Iran has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has started converting uranium into the gas needed for enrichment purposes, a process that has sparked renewed concerns about a possible bomb program.

Reza Aghazadeh, Iran's vice president and energy chief said the Islamic Republic is already converting part a large amount of raw uranium into the hexafluoride gas used by nuclear centrifuges to make enriched uranium.

IAEA spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, says this comes as no surprise but the IAEA had hoped Iran would not proceed with the plan.

"Iran did notify the IAEA some time ago that it intended to conduct this conversion test and has provided us with operational plans," she said. "The IAEA has all the necessary safeguard measures in place at that facility. However the director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is continuing to call on Iran to suspend such a test as part of its confidence building measures".

The IAEA board of governors stated in a resolution adopted Saturday that it was necessary for Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities immediately.

Iran has promised before to comply but has only partially suspended its uranium enrichment program and never for very long.

Enriched uranium can be used for civilian or military purposes.

Mr. Aghazadeh told the IAEA general conference Monday that Iran's program was purely peaceful and Tehran has a legal right to uranium enrichment.

He added Iran aimed to become self-sufficient and develop a complete fuel cycle.

The United States, backed by Europe and Russia wants Iran to suspend its enrichment program until it can dispel suspicions that it is secretly working on a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA board of governors is expected to meet again in November to assess what steps to take if Iran continues to ignore requests to suspend uranium enrichment.