Iran says it is converting uranium, easing bomb fears

DUBAI Tue Feb 12, 2013 7:16pm IST

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Tehran June 29, 2011. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/Files

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview in Tehran June 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz/Files

Related Topics

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran acknowledged on Tuesday that it was converting some of its higher-grade enriched uranium into reactor fuel, a move that could help to prevent a dispute with the West over its nuclear programme hitting a crisis in mid-2013.

Conversion is one way for Iran to slow the growth in its stockpile of material that could be used to make a bomb. That stockpile is currently projected to reach a level intolerable to Israel in mid-year, just as Iran's room for negotiation is being limited by a presidential election in June.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was asked at a weekly news conference about a Reuters report that Iran has converted small amounts of its 20-percent enriched uranium into reactor fuel.

"This work is being done and all its reports have been sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a complete manner," he was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

It was Iran's first acknowledgment that it had apparently resumed converting into fuel small amounts of uranium enriched to a concentration of 20 percent fissile material.

Iran's production of that higher-grade uranium worries the major powers because it is only a short technical step away from the 90-percent purity needed for a weapon.

On-off negotiations with the major powers and four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to stop its enrichment activities, and the IAEA has been refused full access to investigate other suspect elements of the nuclear programme.

Iran denies that it is seeking a weapon and says its nuclear programme serves only peaceful purposes such as electricity and the production of medical isotopes.

CRITICAL MASS

But Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, has indicated that Iran's stockpile will reach a level in June at which it considers it must attack to stop Iran acquiring enough fissile material for a bomb. With a presidential election taking place that month, Tehran's room to make concessions to foreign powers is limited.

A U.S. official sought to reassure Israel this week on the determination of President Barack Obama, due to visit the region shortly, to curb Iran's nuclear programme, according to an Israeli official who declined to be named.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, "reiterated the Americans' commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran, and their worries about regional proliferation, were Iran to go nuclear", said the official, who met Gottemoeller.

Iran averted a potential crisis last year by converting some 100 kg of its 20-percent enriched uranium into fuel, suggesting to some that it was carefully keeping below the threshold set by Israel, while still advancing its nuclear technology.

It is not believed to have enriched uranium beyond 20 percent. A fuller picture is unlikely until a new IAEA report on Iran's nuclear activity, due by late February.

Separately, officials from the IAEA are due to hold talks in Tehran on Wednesday in the hope of restarting their long-stalled inquiry into Iran's nuclear programme.

The U.N. agency, whose mission is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, has been trying for a year to negotiate a so-called structured approach with Iran that would give its inspectors access to sites, officials and documents.

The IAEA especially wants access to the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran where it believes explosives tests relevant for nuclear weapons development may have taken place and been subsequently concealed, allegations that iran denies.

"READY FOR DEAL"

Mehmanparast said Iran was ready to come to a "comprehensive agreement" with the IAEA if Tehran's nuclear rights were recognised. Part of this agreement could include a visit to Parchin, he said.

But Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, on Tuesday criticised the IAEA's handling of documents related to Iran, signalling the continued mistrust between the agency and Tehran.

"Unfortunately their system is not sufficiently secure," Abbasi-Davani said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA). "They need to be more careful in their interactions with Iran."

Last year Abbasi-Davani accused the U.N. agency of a "cynical approach" and mismanagement, and said "terrorists and saboteurs might have intruded" into the agency.

Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, are due to hold a new round of talks on the nuclear programme in Kazakhstan on February 26.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that the powers were ready to respond if Iran came to the talks prepared to discuss "real substance".

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, visiting Moscow, said Iran was "counting on there being positive and constructive steps made to resolve this problem at the upcoming meeting".

In Tehran, Salehi's spokesman Mehmanparast responded to news that North Korea had conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of existing United Nations resolutions by saying: "We need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons."

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

FILED UNDER:

Sony Cyber Attack

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Exit Polls

Exit Polls

BJP unlikely to form Jammu & Kashmir govt - polls.  Full Article 

Forceful Conversions

Forceful Conversions

BJP distances itself from religious conversions.  Full Article 

Photo

Fund Raising

Flipkart raises $700 million in fresh funding.   Full Article 

Reforms Push

Reforms Push

Modi may order insurance, coal reforms if vote delayed - officials.  Full Article 

Economic Pulse

Economic Pulse

Crank up public spending to revive growth - chief economic adviser.  Full Article 

Reuters Exclusive

Reuters Exclusive

India looks to sway Americans with nuclear power insurance plan  Full Article 

Down Under

Down Under

Magic Johnson inspires Australia to second test win.  Full Article 

Going International

Going International

Bollywood’s Priyanka Chopra sets sights on American TV.  Full Article 

India This Week

India This Week

Some of our best photos from this week.   Full Coverage 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device   Full Coverage