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News | Report: US Can Accept Iran's Low-Level Uranium Enrichment


27 Apr 2012 23:55Comments

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CentrifugesKandKPoster2.jpg 11:55 p.m. IRDT, 8 Ordibihesht/April 27 In the runup to the next round of talks concerning Iran's nuclear program between representatives of the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany -- unnamed U.S. government officials have told the Los Angeles Times that the Obama administration is prepared to accept ongoing Iranian uranium enrichment in what the paper characterizes as a "major concession." According to the Times, the officials said
they might agree to let Tehran continue enriching uranium up to concentrations of 5% if the Iranian government agreed to unrestricted inspections, and strict oversight and safeguards that the United Nations long has demanded.

Iran has begun enriching small amounts of uranium to 20% purity in February 2010 for what it contends are peaceful purposes, although most of its stockpile is purified at lower levels. Uranium can be used as bomb fuel at about 90% enrichment.

The question of whether to approve even low-level enrichment is highly controversial within the U.S. government and among its allies because of the risk that Iranian scientists still might be able to gain the knowledge and experience to someday build a bomb.

But a consensus has gradually emerged among U.S. and foreign officials that the Iranians are unlikely to accede to a complete halt to enrichment, and that pushing this demand could make it impossible to reach a negotiated deal to stop Iran's program short of a military attack.

After talks that took place in Istanbul two weeks ago, which participants on both sides described as much more positive in tone than previous negotiations, another round of talks was scheduled for May 23 in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The uranium enriched to what the Times describes as 20 percent -- the actual level is 19.75 percent -- has evidently been used as fuel for the specialized Tehran Research Reactor, which produces radioisotopes for cancer treatment.

The position described in today's report is likely to come under fire from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference last month, advocated subjecting Iran to a "diplomatic isolation program" such as the one imposed on South Africa during the latter years of the apartheid era. Romney also mocked the Obama administration's approach -- "Hope is not a foreign policy" -- and made the surprising assertion, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the West "may not know when Iran will secure sufficient fissile material to threaten the entire world, but the IAEA warns that that hour is fast approaching." Fissile material, in this context, is generally understood to mean the sort of 90-percent-enriched weapons-grade uranium mentioned in the Los Angeles Times story. The IAEA has never suggested that Iran possesses any fissile material at all nor that it is on the verge of initiating production of it.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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