Tuesday 28 February 2017

Iran increases enriched uranium ahead of global meeting over nuclear programme

Praveen Swami

Iran has announced it has substantially increased its enriched uranium stockpile, only a month ahead of scheduled negotiations with global powers on its controversial nuclear programme.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of Iran's atomic energy authority, has said that Iran now holds 30kg (66.13lb) of 20pc enriched uranium – a level of enrichment that has legitimate civilian uses but is also adequate to manufacture crude nuclear weapons. The Vienna-based International Atomic Regulatory Authority (IAEA) reported last month that Iran had 22kg (48.5lb) of 20pc enriched uranium.

Mr Salehi also said Iran has stepped up extraction from the Gechin uranium mine, near the southern port of Bandar Abbas, and begun work at two new mines in the central Yazd province.

The five permanent members of the UNSC–the US, Britain, France, Russia and China–along with Germany, are scheduled to hold negotiations with Iran next month, in a renewed diplomatic effort to address global concerns over the country's nuclear ambitions.

A senior diplomat involved in the negotiations told The Daily Telegraph Iran would likely bring some concessions to the table, such as allowing more stringent inspections by the IAEA operating its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz under international supervision. It is, however, unlikely to accede to UNSC demands to terminate its uranium enrichment programme altogether, the diplomat said.

Should the negotiations fail, the UNSC may consider tightening sanctions it originally imposed in June. It is unclear, though, if its members will be able to develop a consensus on the issue. Russia's government came under intense criticism after it cancelled a contract for the sale of S-300 PMU-1 air-defence missiles to Iran. China has supported the sanctions, but there have been reports that firms in the country have continued to sell sensitive technologies to Iran.

Iran insists it has no intention of manufacturing nuclear weapons, but there is mounting evidence which suggests otherwise. In February, the IAEA criticised Iran for failing to disclose secret tests of precision detonators and the modification of missile cones to accommodate heavy payloads–experiments typically associated with the use of nuclear warheads.

Experts concur that Iran is still some way away from mastering the complex steps needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Its actions, however, have caused concern because Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea all successfully developed nuclear weapons under cover of civilian programmes.

Telegraph.co.uk

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