After Talks Falter, Iran Says It Won’t Halt Uranium Work (NY) TIMES) By THOMAS ERDBRINK TEHRAN, IRAN 05/28/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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TEHRAN — Iran’s nuclear chief, reversing the country’s previous
statements, said on state television on Sunday that the country would
not halt its production of higher-grade uranium, suggesting that the
Iranian government was veering back to a much harder line after talks
in Baghdad with the West last week ended badly.
The official, Fereydoon Abbasi, said there would be no suspension of
enrichment by Iran, the central requirement of several United Nations
Security Council resolutions. He specifically said that applied to
uranium being enriched to 20 percent purity — a steppingstone that
puts it in fairly easy reach of producing highly enriched uranium
that can be used for nuclear weapons.
“We have no reason to retreat from producing the 20 percent, because
we need 20 percent uranium just as much to meet our needs,” Mr.
Abbasi said, according to Iranian state television.
Mr. Abbasi’s statement will be of particular concern to the United
States and Israel because Iran is producing more of its 20 percent
enriched uranium in a deep underground site that is considered highly
resistant to bombing. The site, called Fordow, is on a military base
and was discovered by Western intelligence agencies several years
ago, but Iran only acknowledged the work there in 2009.
The Fordow plant, near the holy city of Qum, is so deep that Israeli
officials say if Iran makes progress there, it will have entered
a “zone of immunity” where it would be safe from Israeli or American
military action. Getting Iran to halt its 20 percent enrichment, and
ultimately dismantle and close the Fordow plant, has been described
by American officials as their top priority.
Mr. Abbasi’s remarks, which included an announcement that Iran would
start building two nuclear power plants in 2013, are bound to
complicate the already difficult nuclear talks between Iran and the
world powers, which are to be continued in Moscow on June 18. If the
talks fail, the powers are planning to tighten sanctions on Iranian
exports and financial dealings as early as July 1, including placing
an embargo on all sales of Iranian oil to Europe.
Iran’s enrichment of uranium is at the center of those discussions,
with Western countries suspecting the country of stockpiling enriched
uranium that could be rapidly converted into weapons-grade material.
Iran says it only wants to produce civilian nuclear energy.
Before the meeting in Baghdad, Mr. Abbasi had hinted that Iran was
ready to compromise on its program of enriching uranium up to 20
percent with the isotope capable of sustaining nuclear fission, which
it says it needs to fuel an aging United States-designed medical
Iranian negotiators were under the impression that the Obama
administration and its allies, in return, were willing to allow Iran
to continue to enrich up to a lower percentage. But during the
Baghdad meeting it became clear that such an offer was not on the
table, at least for now.
Instead, the world powers offered another proposal, which called for
Iran to export its stockpile of the more highly enriched uranium and
suspend any further production. In exchange, the country was to
receive supplies of medical isotopes.
That plan was turned down by Iran’s negotiators, who made a
counterproposal that would have allowed Iran to continue to enrich
uranium. It also called for nuclear disarmament and, among other
things, cooperation in the fight against Somali pirates in the Horn
Both sides expect the other to take the first significant steps,
without wanting to compromise on critical issues, said a European
diplomat familiar with the talks.
Iranian officials have been unclear about how much of the higher
enriched uranium they want to produce. A Friday report by the
International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had produced 145
kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent, more than it ordered
from Argentina in 1988, the last time it needed a stockpile for its
medical reactor. In other words, it has already made enough to keep
its reactor, which produces medical isotopes, running for another two
decades. Iran’s insistence on producing more — though it has no
reactor to burn the additional fuel — has increased suspicions about
In April, Mr. Abbasi said that Iran planned to build five more
medical reactors, and that it needed to create a stockpile of fuel
for that purpose.
Western powers fear that Iran, if needed, could quickly enrich the
uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent or above. But that
would require a repiping of its equipment and would most likely be
detected by the energy agency’s inspectors.
The energy agency’s report also said that in one instance uranium
enriched up to 27 percent was found. Mr. Abbasi said it was a
technical or operational mistake. Western experts on Friday agreed
that such an explanation was plausible.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has been largely sidelined
in the nuclear talks by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, urged the country’s Parliament on Sunday to stand with him
against the “evil ones” who he said had encircled the nation.
On Saturday, Mr. Abbasi, a former nuclear scientist who survived an
assassination attempt two years ago that is believed to have been
mounted by Israel, also highlighted complications in the talks with
the energy agency, which took place in Tehran two days before the
meeting with the world powers.
After the talks wrapped up, the energy agency’s secretary general,
Yukiya Amano, who had flown to Tehran for the first time since his
appointment in 2009, said that he was near an agreement with the
Iranians on extra inspections, including at Parchin, a military base
near the capital where the agency suspects military nuclear
activities are under way.
Iran’s nuclear chief made clear that such an agreement would only be
signed if the agency presented evidence that proved Iran was pursuing
illegal nuclear activities on the site.
“The reasons and documents have still not been presented by the
agency to convince us to give permission for this visit,” Mr. Abbasi
was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency on Saturday.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The New York
Times Company 05/28/12)
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