Iran Seen Bolstering Capabilities at Qum Uranium Refinement Site

NTI: The deployment of additional uranium refinement systems has continued at Iran’s Qum facility, but machines recently fielded at the subterranean complex apparently remain inactive, Reuters on Wednesday quoted Western international relations insiders as saying.

Iran’s time line for turning on new centrifuges at the facility was uncertain, and potential steps to begin use of more machines would prompt protests from Israel and other governments fearful that the enrichment effort is geared toward production of bomb material, according to Reuters. Tehran insists all of its atomic activities, including its refinement of uranium, are intended solely for peaceful purposes.

“We think that they have continued installing centrifuges at [Qum],” said an envoy tied to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “We think that their pace has continued the same as it was, which was pretty rapid.”

A Western government insider backed allegations that “Iran continues to build up enrichment capacity.”

The development — if verified by an IAEA safeguards assessment anticipated next month — would indicate Iran is achieving consistent progress toward wrapping up deployment of centrifuges at the fortified mountain facility. The U.N. nuclear watchdog in August indicated that Tehran had increased the quantity of the machines at the site to 2,140, a two-fold boost, and 600 additional systems had yet to be placed at the site.

The IAEA-affiliated envoy said Iran’s efforts to field centrifuges at Qum could be “near complete,” and a second diplomatic insider made comments to the same effect.

One international relations official said the efforts “continue sort of unabated.”

Just under 700 of the systems at Qum were operational, a number that has remained consistent for much of 2012, diplomatic insiders said.

They added it is unknown if the inactive machines would eventually generate 5 percent-enriched uranium or more highly refined material. Washington and other governments fear Iran’s growing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium could enable faster preparation of bomb-capable material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent. However, the Middle Eastern nation has said the higher-enriched uranium is intended to fuel a medical reactor in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “realistic” potential exists for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to meet in November with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Agence France-Presse reported. Ashton has communicated with Tehran on behalf of six world powers — China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States — in efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff through negotiations.

A possible new meeting between the EU and Iranian officials would not take place in Moscow, Ryabkov said.

Moscow is “very concerned by the European Union’s adoption on Oct. 15 of a new series ofunilateral sanctions against Iran,” AFP quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday.

“We repeat: We do not consider unilateral sanctions, introduced by states or groups of states circumventing the U.N. Security Council, as legitimate instruments of international policy,” the ministry said.

The office said the 27-nation bloc’s punitive measures “undermine the resumption of negotiations with Iran, which in our opinion have registered progress.” High-level Iranian diplomats have met on three occasions this year with counterparts from the five Security Council member nations and Germany in a bid to address international concerns over Tehran’s atomic aims.

The EU penalties against Iran are “unacceptable,” the ministry added. “We are again forced to establish that the inconsiderate gestures of the European Union countries strike a sensitive blow to the unity of the group of six international negotiators.”

Moscow would press ahead in efforts to arrange a fourth round of multilateral atomic discussions with Tehran, the ministry stated.

The EU measures would be the focus of international legal action planned by nongovernmental petroleum companies in Iran, the country’s Fars News Agency reported on Wednesday.

An unidentified insider said “a number of private oil companies which are on the list (of the EU’s boycotted companies) are busy with projects in foreign states and a large part of their income comes from abroad.”

The insider said “such companies are after numerous solutions to continue their activities, one of which is filing lawsuits at the international courts and solving the issue through legal ways.”

Legislation under development in the Iranian legislature would bar purchases of goods from firms observing economic penalties targeting the nation, Fars News reported.

“According to the bill, a list of those companies which have sanctioned Iran is being prepared which will prevent the import from these companies whether directly or indirectly and for a period of 30 years, and the government is required to implement this law properly,” lawmaker Reza Rahmani said on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates is in talks with Washington on potentially ending UAE purchases of petroleum condensate from Iran, Reuters reported on Thursday.