VIENNA – Iran has significantly stepped up its output of low-enriched uranium and total production in the last five years, which would be enough for at least five nuclear weapons if refined much further, a US security institute said.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a think-tank which closely tracks Iran’s nuclear program, made the analysis on the basis of data in the latest quarterly UN watchdog report which was issued on Friday.
Progress in Iran’s nuclear activities is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine how long it could take Tehran to build atomic bombs, if it decided to do so. Iran denies any plan to and says its aims are entirely peaceful.
During talks in Baghdad this week, six world powers failed to convince Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment program. They will meet again in Moscow next month to try to defuse a decade-old standoff that has raised fears of a new war in the Middle East that could disrupt oil supplies.
Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a Vienna-based UN body, showed Iran pressing ahead with its uranium enrichment work in defiance of UN resolutions calling on it to suspend the activity.
It said Iran had produced almost 6.2 tonnes of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent since it began the work in 2007 – some of which has subsequently been further processed into higher-grade material.
This is nearly 750 kg more than in the previous IAEA report issued in February, and ISIS said Iran’s monthly production had risen by roughly a third.
The rupture between the US and Israel over Iran’s nuclear program widened further Friday, May 25 when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided not to be available to hear the briefing brought to Jerusalem from Baghdad by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman who headed the US delegation to the Six Power talks. The report she delivered to National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and Foreign Ministry Director-General Rafi Barak was that no progress had been achieved in Baghdad due to Iran’s refusal to budge on its “right” to enrich uranium at low (3.5-5 percent) or high (20 percent) levels or shut down the Fordo nuclear plant near Qom.
Although the participants agreed to reconvene in Moscow in three weeks, the Iranian delegation stressed there would be no progress until the US and the other five world powers (Britain, France, Russia, Germany and China) recognized Iran’s absolute “right” as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium.
Meanwhile, every day spent on diplomacy is thoroughly exploited by Iran to zip ahead with its nuclear plans. The Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA)’s quarterly report released Friday reveals that since February Iran almost doubled its stockpile of more highly enriched uranium which is close to weapons grade from 73.4 to 145 kilograms.
The centrifuges at the Fordo facility, built into the side of a mountain, rose to over 500 from 300 in the last report.
Using the IAEA figures, debkafile calculates that if Fordo goes on producing 23.9 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium per month, Iran will by the end of December have accumulated 336 kilograms of near-weapons quality uranium.
The IAEA also reported that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to less than 5 per cent grew to 6,232 kilograms from 5,451 reported in February.
Its inspectors recorded “the presence of particles” of 27 per cent-enriched uranium at Fordo. Iran maintained the particles were a result of “technical reasons beyond the operator’s control.”
The IAEA report was released a day after talks between Tehran and the six powers ended without progress.
Iran’s senior delegate Saeed Jalili declared that his government would never accept the Washington-ruled distinction between two categories of nations – one permitted and the other forbidden to enrich uranium. He claimed this was against international treaties.
Friday, the Washington Post quoted Mohammad Hoseyn Moussavian of Princeton University as revealing that in 2004, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “I would resign if for any reason Iran is deprived of its rights to enrichment.”
Moussavian is presented as an Iranian academic visiting Princeton to lecture and write a book on the Iranian nuclear issue. debkafile reveals that he was the contact man in one of the direct, back-channel negotiations taking place in Paris between the White House and Khamenei. His words therefore were intended to carry weight as a reminder to Obama that the supreme leader, like the US president, intended to come out of their dialogue strengthened – not undermined. And therefore, for both their sakes, Washington must endorse Iran’s “right to enrichment.”
Tehran presented a second ultimatum for the nuclear talks to continue: phased sanctions relief, starting with the postponement of the European Union’s oil embargo scheduled for July 1 until the end of negotiations and the reconnection of Iranian banks to the SWIFT international money transfer system.
The gap between Israel and the Obama administration widened in the course of Washington’s direct, secret give-and-take with Tehran. In early April, Defense Minister Barak reported that Israel offered some compromise on the enrichment issue. debkafile disclosed at the time that Israel had informed Washington of its approval of a “1,000 formula.” Iran would be permitted to activate 1,000 centrifuges for enrichment and keep 1,000 kilograms of 3.5-per cent enriched uranium.
The Netanyahu government backtracked when this concession was used by US officials as a lever for further accommodations with Iran.
The direct US-Iran channel and the second round of Six Power talks with Iran have clearly left the standoff over Iran’s nuclear solidly in place: Iran stands by its right to enrich uranium up to weapons grade, the US stands by diplomacy, however hopeless, for resolving the controversy, while Israel demands a time limit for negotiations. Its military option was put back on the table for so long as Iran’s enrichment centrifuges continue spinning at top speed.