Iran Nuclear NewsAtomic agency views Iran’s stepped-up enrichment of uranium as...

Atomic agency views Iran’s stepped-up enrichment of uranium as a violation

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ImageNew York Times: Iran’s surprise move this week to begin enriching its uranium to a level closer to weapons-grade violated an agreement with atomic inspectors in Vienna, diplomats said, very likely providing the United States with another piece of evidence that Iran is not living up to its international commitments on its nuclear program. The New York Times

By WILLIAM J. BROAD

ImageIran’s surprise move this week to begin enriching its uranium to a level closer to weapons-grade violated an agreement with atomic inspectors in Vienna, diplomats said, very likely providing the United States with another piece of evidence that Iran is not living up to its international commitments on its nuclear program.

The breach involved Iran’s starting the enrichment process in the absence of atomic inspectors — something that the International Atomic Energy Agency had specifically asked Iran not to do. Narrowly, the violation was viewed as technical in nature. But it caused resentment at the atomic agency’s headquarters in Vienna because Iran had acted so quickly and with such apparent contempt of the agreement.

“There’s a feeling of pique and annoyance,” said a European diplomat who works with the agency and spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

On Wednesday, the agency issued a report on the matter to its member states. The diplomat called the report an expression of the agency’s umbrage.

The episode began Monday when Iran informed the agency that it planned to raise its level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent from 4 percent in an effort to make fuel for a medical reactor.

According to the report, the agency asked Iran in a letter on Monday to refrain from feeding low-enriched uranium into centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant until the agency “was able to adjust its existing safeguards procedures.” The report cited Article 45 of Iran’s agreement with the agency, which calls for notice of major changes “sufficiently in advance for the safeguards procedures to be adjusted.”

The inspectors arrived Tuesday at Natanz, the report said, and monitored the Iranians as they moved 22 pounds of the low-enriched uranium from the main plant to a smaller facility known as the pilot plant. On Wednesday, when the inspectors returned, they were told that Iran had begun feeding uranium into the centrifuges the previous evening.

“That’s unacceptable,” the diplomat said. “They have to let the agency monitor the process.” The odds that Iran did something worse than break its word were slim, the diplomat added, saying the act nonetheless angered the agency because of its patent disregard of the rules.

The diplomat called the report — issued in Vienna the same day the inspectors in Iran discovered the violation — highly unusual.

The amount of uranium now undergoing higher enrichment is minuscule compared with what Iran needs to fuel a reactor or, with greater enrichment, a bomb.

But nuclear experts see the escalation as significant because the United Nations has called on Iran, instead of showing new proficiencies in enrichment, to halt its program altogether.

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