Iran Nuclear NewsNuclear agency says Iran has bolstered ability to make...

Nuclear agency says Iran has bolstered ability to make fuel but slowed its output


ImageNew York Times: International nuclear inspectors reported on Friday that Iran had significantly increased its ability to produce nuclear fuel over the summer, even while slowing the pace at which it was enriching the uranium that the West fears could one day fuel nuclear weapons.

The New York Times


ImageInternational nuclear inspectors reported on Friday that Iran had significantly increased its ability to produce nuclear fuel over the summer, even while slowing the pace at which it was enriching the uranium that the West fears could one day fuel nuclear weapons.

The slowdown puzzled the inspectors, and Iran offered no clues about whether technical problems or political considerations accounted for its action.

Nonetheless, outside nuclear experts who dissected the agency’s latest report — a critical one because it comes just as the United States and its European allies are debating far more damaging sanctions against Iran — said that if Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium was further purified, it would have nearly two warheads’ worth of bomb fuel.

The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, also reported that Iran had reopened some crucial sites to inspectors after keeping them out for a year. But the agency said that after years of requests, the country still refused to turn over important documents linked to suspicions that its military was involved in the nuclear program, or to allow the agency to interview key personnel suspected of roles in weapons development.

The State Department, reacting to the report on Friday evening, said that the report “clearly shows that Iran continues to expand its nuclear program and deny the I.A.E.A. most forms of cooperation.”

On Wednesday, officials from the United States and Europe are to meet to debate proposals for far more severe sanctions against Iran than the United Nations Security Council has invoked, with no results, against Tehran for continuing to enrich uranium. One proposal on the table is a cutoff of refined gasoline exported to the country. In advance of the report, those governments were pressing for the monitoring agency to publish a pointed account of the evidence suggesting Iran had weapons ambitions for its nuclear program. But they met resistance from the agency, and the latest report offered no new evidence, beyond the standard measures of Iran’s progress in enrichment.

In a separate statement, agency officials denied recent claims of a rift inside the organization over what to publish in this report. In a statement, Marc Vidricaire, an I.A.E.A. spokesman, denied that the agency was hiding any internal reports about the extent or nature of the Iranian program or that staff members had clashed about the report’s contents.

“Needless to say,” he said, “such allegations have no basis in fact.”

The slowdown in the enrichment of uranium — the key ingredient that Iran would need to produce to fuel nuclear power plants, or nuclear weapons — was something of a surprise. For reasons the agency could not explain, Iran has reduced, at least for now, the number of centrifuges it is actively using for enrichment, to 4,592 from 4,920 noted in the agency’s report in June.

The report, however, also disclosed that Iran had increased the number of centrifuges that were installed and ready to add to Iran’s capacity. It put the new total at more than 8,300 — an increase of more than 1,100 since June.

“Continuing to install large numbers of new centrifuges is significant” since filling them with raw uranium “is a relatively minor step,” the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, said in an analysis of the report.

Some American intelligence officials have suggested that Iran is trying to build up enough centrifuges so that it can “break out” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at any moment and produce weapons-grade fuel. Other officials, however, say they doubt Iran would try to produce weapons-grade material from any centrifuges that the inspectors already know about.

On Friday, the atomic agency also reported that Iran, even with the work slowdown, had substantially increased its stocks of enriched uranium. In June, the total stood at 839 kilograms, or 1,850 pounds. Friday’s report listed the enrichment of an additional 669 kilograms, bringing the total to 1,508 kilograms, or 3,325 pounds.

“That’s a little short of what you need to make two bombs” if Tehran decided to further enrich the material, said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a research organization in Washington that tracks Iran’s atomic progress.

Perhaps because of the renewed pressure on the agency, the report laid out many allegations that Iran had pursued a military program for the development of nuclear arms, apparently displaying the evidence at the request of Western governments. While some of the conclusions appeared more sharply drawn than in the past, agency officials insisted that the report was simply restating information that it had already made public.

“It’s much longer and more explicit,” a European diplomat familiar with the agency’s work said of the report’s weapons section. “But it’s not new information.”

For instance, the report said Iran had confirmed the existence of a letter related to an alleged secretive military program known as the Green Salt Project — an effort that the United States believes links Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to the nuclear program — and had even given the agency a copy of the letter. Previously, Iran had claimed that most of the evidence about the project was exaggerated or fabricated by Western intelligence agencies.

“The existence of this original demonstrates a direct link between the relevant documentation and Iran,” the report said. “The agency needs to see further related correspondence and to have access to the individuals named in the letter.”

The report said that such linkages and credible bits of corroborating evidence put the onus on Iran to prove the weapons allegations false.

Tehran, the report said, had repeatedly evaded the substance of the charges. The atomic agency, it added, “has therefore requested Iran to provide more substantive responses” and to give it access to people, information and locations identified in the documents so the agency can “confirm Iran’s assertion that these documents are false and fabricated.”

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