Iran Claims 44 Pounds of Higher-Enriched Uranium

GSN: Iran yesterday announced it holds more than 44 pounds of uranium enriched to 20 percent, 7 pounds more than when the nation last declared its stockpile of the material roughly three weeks ago, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, July 9).

The Persian Gulf nation in February began further refining low-enriched uranium from its stockpile, ostensibly for producing medical isotopes at a medical research reactor in Tehran. The United States and other Western powers, though, have feared the process could help Iran produce nuclear-weapon material, which has an enrichment level around 90 percent. Tehran has insisted its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.

“We have produced around 20 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium and we are working to produce the (fuel) plates” for the medical reactor, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to state media. Salehi previously asserted that Tehran had obtained the expertise necessary for producing such fuel plates, but Western nations doubt the claim.

Iran intends by September 2011 to “deliver the fuel for the Tehran research reactor,” the official added (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, July 11). Iran would require a six-fold increase to its present quantity of 20 percent-enriched uranium to fuel the reactor, Bloomberg reported today (Henry Meyer, Bloomberg I, July 12).

“Iran is nearing the possession of the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of a nuclear weapon,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said today in Moscow. Tehran, he warned, “is far from behaving in the best way,” AFP reported.

Russia and other nations in the U.N. Security Council last month adopted its fourth sanctions resolution against Iran, and the United States and other nations followed suit by imposing various unilateral measures. Medvedev expressed hope that the penalties would draw Tehran back to talks on its nuclear program.

“Now what we need is patience and as quickly as possible to renew dialogue with Tehran,” Medvedev said.

“This is what we see as the main aim of the UN Security Council resolution. And if diplomacy loses this chance then this will be a collective failure of all the international community,” he added (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, July 12).

Former Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karoubi said his country’s Revolutionary Guard was benefiting from economic penalties imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, AFP reported yesterday.

“I believe that part of the Iranian [leadership] as well as the Revolutionary Guards are in favor of sanctions as they make gigantic and astronomical profits from them,” an Iranian opposition Web site quoted Karoubi as saying.

“Imprudence in (Iran’s) foreign policy and the lack of political sanity in the actions and political and diplomatic words of the man in charge of the government have imposed high costs on the country,” he said, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “We should not give an excuse through shallow words and bungling actions and allow others to easily impose sanctions against Iran” (Agence France-Presse III/Google News, July 11).

The Revolutionary Guard over several decades has honed its techniques for evading economic sanctions, and was considered likely to be overseeing much or all of the country’s $12 billion in illicit trade conducted each year, Newsweek reported Saturday.

“You’re using pinpoint sanctions against the very entity that’s best positioned to evade those sanctions,” says Matthew Levitt, a counterterrorism specialist with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “(They’re) extremely creative (with) front organizations, which they’ll open and shut regularly,” he added.

“You’re enriching the people the sanctions are trying to target,” said one Iranian businessman (Babak Dehghanpisheh, Newsweek, July 10).

An illicit trade in crude and refined petroleum has developed between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, undermining sanctions aimed at staunching Iranian refined oil imports, the New York Times reported last week.

Kurdish officials “bear responsibility” for the trade, Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Abdul-Karim al-Luaibi said.

Ashti Hawrami, Kurdistan’s regional oil minister, argued that oil was being smuggled to Iran from other regions of Iraq. The official said his ministry has no means of halting the trade.

“A truck is a truck — so easy to manufacture a license and say, ‘This is fuel oil and not crude oil’ and they find their way,” he said. “Unfortunately, the problem is much broader than little Kurdistan” (Sam Dagher,New York Times, July 8).

Economic penalties adopted against Iran in recent weeks are unlikely to pressure the nation to alter its atomic policies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.

“We’ve had effective nuclear peace for more than half a century because everybody understood the rules,” Bloomberg quoted Netanyahu as saying. “I don’t think you can rely on Iran.”

It might not be possible to deter a nuclear-armed Iran from using its atomic arsenal, the Israeli leader suggested.

“You can’t rely on the fact that they’ll obey the calculations of cost and benefit that have governed all nuclear powers since the rise of the nuclear age after Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said (Jeff Bliss, Bloomberg II, July 11).

Elsewhere, Ahmadinejad and Turkish President Abdullah Gul last week agreed to pursue additional discussions based on a plan developed in May for exchanging Iranian uranium, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported Friday. The plan — negotiated by Iran, Brazil and Turkey — calls for Iran to store 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium in Turkey for one year; other countries would be expected within that period to provide nuclear material refined for use at a Tehran medical research reactor in exchange for the Iranian material.

The arrangement appeared similar to another proposal, formulated in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that was intended to defer the Middle Eastern state’s enrichment activities long enough to more fully address U.S. and European concerns about its potential nuclear bomb-making capability. Tehran ultimately rejected the IAEA proposal worked out with France, Russia and the United States. Those nations, known as the “Vienna group,” subsequently expressed concerns about the later agreement (Fars News Agency, July 9).

“We presented Iran with feedback. We’re now waiting for their reply before considering the next step,” one diplomat told AFP.

It remained to be seen whether the Vienna group would allow Brazil and Turkey to join future nuclear fuel swap talks, sources said. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted yesterday as saying that those two nations had been “accepted” into the negotiations (Agence France-Presse IV/Spacewar.com, July 12).

In New Delhi, Indian and Iranian officials inked six agreements Friday for addressing cooperation on economic issues and non-nuclear power programs, the Emirates News Agency reported.

India said the agreements were necessitated by its enduring ties with Iran, but Tehran must still meet its international nuclear obligations (Emirates News Agency/Khaleej Times, July 9).

In the United Kingdom, Lloyd’s of London said Friday that it would no longer provide insurance or reinsurance for any oil deliveries to Iran, Reuters reported (Jonathan Saul, Reuters, July 9).