Published May 31, 2010
| Associated Press
VIENNA – VIENNA (AP) — Iran has amassed more than two tons of enriched uranium, the U.N. atomic agency said Monday in a report that heightened Western concerns about the country developing the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.
Two tons of uranium would be enough for two nuclear warheads, although Iran says it does not want weapons and is only pursuing civilian nuclear energy.
The U.S. and the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members — Russia, China, Britain and France — have tentatively backed a draft fourth set of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium.
Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency — the U.N. nuclear watchdog — said Syria continues to stonewall agency reports to follow up on U.S. assertions that a facility destroyed three years ago by Israeli warplanes was a secretly built reactor meant to produce plutonium.
"Syria has not cooperated with the agency since June 2008" on most aspects of its investigation, according to the IAEA's Syria report. But it noted that Syria has admitted to small-scale nuclear experiments that it had previously not owned up to.
Syria denies allegations it was being helped by Iran and North Korea in developing a covert program.
But diplomats familiar with the Syria probe told The Associated Press of a visit to Syria in January by a high-ranking Iranian nuclear delegation led by Mahdi Kaniki, a deputy to Ali Akhbar Salehi, an Iranian deputy president and head of his country's nuclear program. The two diplomats asked for anonymity because their information was confidential.
For seven months, Iran refused to accept a deal brokered by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency that foresaw Iran exporting 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for Tehran's research reactor.
The West backed that offer because it would have committed Iran to exporting most of the enriched uranium it had produced and left it with less than the 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of material needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb.
Iran rejected the offer then but now says it is ready to ship out the same amount of material and has enlisted the backing of Turkey and Brazil in trying to reach a compromise and derail the new sanctions push.
Iran insists it has no interest in nuclear weapons. But its refusal to stop enrichment — which can create both nuclear fuel and warhead material — and its stonewalling of IAEA efforts to investigate suspicions it is interested in developing such arms have increased international worry.
The restricted International Atomic Energy Agency report said that the IAEA "remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities, involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile."
On enrichment, the report made available to the AP shortly after release to the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA's 35-nation board said Iran had now enriched 2,427 kilograms to just over three percent level.
That means shipping out 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms) now would still leave Iran with more than enough material to make a nuclear weapon. That makes the deal unattractive to the U.S and its allies
The report confirmed that Iran continues a separate program of small-scale enrichment of uranium, using 3.5 percent feedstock and enriching to near 20 percent — another hurdle for the West. Iran could produce weapons grade uranium much more quickly from the 20 percent level, making the separate program another hurdle to any fuel swap deal.
The U.S. and its allies view Tehran's insistence on continuing higher enrichment even as it offers to accept the swap deal with suspicion since it originally said it had to enrich to 20 percent as the first step in making fuel for the Tehran research reactor.
The IAEA also said that equipment had been removed from a laboratory it was investigating, confirming a report last week to the AP from diplomats familiar with the issue.
At issue is pyroprocessing, a procedure that can be used to purify uranium metal used in nuclear warheads.
In January, Iran told the agency that it had carried out pyroprocessing experiments, prompting a request from the nuclear agency for more information — but then backtracked in March and denied conducting such activities.
IAEA experts last month revisited the site — the Jabr Ibn Jayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran — only to establish "that the electrochemical cell had been removed" from the unit used in the experiments, said the report.