Iran Claims 110 Pounds of Higher-Enriched Uranium

Iran on Sunday indicated it holds more than 110 pounds of uranium enriched to 20 percent, the Xinhua News Agency reported (see GSN, June 10).

The Persian Gulf nation last year began further refining low-enriched uranium from its stockpile, ostensibly for producing medical isotopes at an existing research reactor in Tehran. The United States and other Western powers, though, have feared the process could help Iran produce nuclear-weapon material, which has an enrichment level around 90 percent. Tehran has insisted its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.

“We need 120 kilograms [265 pounds] enrichment up to 20 percent. Of course, we have been able to produce successfully over 50 kilograms,” Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh said.

“But, we still need. We have to speed up,” Soltanieh said. “Because Tehran research reactor is in desperate need for fuel, because Tehran reactor should produce radioisotopes for hospitals” (Xinhua News Agency I/China Daily, June 12).

Iran last Wednesday said it would shift production of higher-enriched uranium to the new Qum facility and boost generation of the material by threefold.

Iran is “shortening [the] decision time” it would need to start assembling a nuclear weapon after collecting enough fissile material for a bomb, the Christian Science Monitor quoted Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, as saying.

“We’re busy trying to fool ourselves into thinking we have all the time in the world,” Sokolski said, “while the Iranians are intent on getting to where they could make some extremely critical decisions in a very short period of time.”

Still, it was uncertain whether Iran can achieve its stated goal and seriously plans to do so, according to theMonitor.

“One thing we know for sure from following the Iranians in this process since 2002 is that they have made a lot of announcements like this one, and some of the things they have done, and some they haven’t,” said Daryl Kimball, who heads the Arms Control Association in Washington.

“This is part bravado, and the statement being made at this time is clearly designed to shore up a government that is internally divided,” Kimball said.

Tehran also issued its enrichment announcement as a signal to other countries just weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency released its “toughest report yet” on the nation’s atomic activities, he said (see GSN, May 25).

“This is Iran’s response,” according to Kimball. “It suggests they are determined to expand their enrichment capabilities despite the difficulties they are facing as a result of sanctions, and despite the fact they are more and more isolated.”

The announcement “puts the world on notice” about Iran’s commitment to continuing its enrichment effort, but it does not represent an imminent danger, Kimball said.

“There is still time to arrive at a diplomatic solution,” said the expert, who called on states to concentrate on “limiting the size of Iran’s enrichment facilities” and forcing the country to meet significantly more intrusive atomic safeguards standards (Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, June 11).

Meanwhile, Tehran on Thursday indicated it was challenging European Union economic penalties against Iran through the European judicial system, Iran’s Press TV reported (see GSN, May 20).

Iran has raised 20 grievances to date in European courts regarding punitive measures adopted over the nation’s nuclear efforts, said Majid Ja’afarzadeh, head of the Iranian presidency’s International Legal Affairs Department (Press TV, June 10).

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for new multilateral atomic discussions involving Iran to begin as quickly as possible, Interfax reported on Friday.

Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in a letter last month to Ashton said his country was willing to hold a new meeting with Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Still, he reportedly avoided addressing the atomic issue and called for the potential talks to focus on other matters (see GSN, May 18).

“I hope that Iran will decide to come back to the table and pick up the different elements, the different parts of that (approach put forward by the international community) or put their own on the table, so that we can go forward together,” Ashton told Interfax at the Russia-EU summit, which convened on Friday.

Ashton said she had discussed with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the need for unity on the matter among the six powers.

“Iran is a very important issue on which we work closely with Russia. And I want to pay tribute to the approach that Russia has taken in collaborating in what we call the [P-5+1]. That is just the way of describing: France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the U.S., six countries working together,” the official said.

“We are taking a common approach in our negotiations which is to put forward proposals to Iran that would build confidence in what they say is the desire to have a civil nuclear program and would enable inspections to take place and enable us to move forward. And we are all united in that. And that approach is on the table,” Ashton said (Interfax, June 10).

Iran’s top diplomat on Sunday said his country is prepared to join new atomic discussions, Xinhua reported.

“If they (West) are ready (for talks), we are ready,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on the first day of Iran’s International Nuclear Disarmament Conference. The meeting, scheduled to continue through Monday, was expected to include envoys from roughly 40 nations as well as representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations (Xinhua News Agency II, June 12).

Separate gatherings at the conference would address the policies of nuclear-armed nations, steps toward abolishing weapons of mass destruction and weapons elimination obligations in the Middle East and elsewhere, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad-Mahdi Akhoundzadeh said on Saturday.

The event would address Israel’s policy of neither confirming nor denying its possession of nuclear weapons, the official said, noting Washington has not pressed Jerusalem on its nuclear program as it has confronted Tehran (Xinhua News Agency III, June 11).

Courtesy of NTI

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