01 Oct

Iran Agrees to Send Enriched Uranium to Russia

“This was a day very much for the engagement track of the two-track strategy,” a senior American official said,



GENEVA — Iran agreed on Thursday in talks with the United States and other major powers to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qum to international inspection in the next two weeks and to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes, senior American and other Western officials said.

Iran’s agreement in principle to export most of its enriched uranium for processing — if it happens — would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.

If Iran has secret stockpiles of enriched uranium, however, the accomplishment would be hollow, a senior American official conceded.

The officials described the long day of talks here with Iran, the first such discussions in which the United States has participated fully, as a modest success on a long and complicated road. Iran had at least finally engaged with the big powers on its nuclear program after more than a year, and had agreed to some tangible, confidence-building steps before another meeting with the same participants before the end of this month.

But despite the relatively promising outcome, the Obama administration was at pains to strike a cautious tone, given Iran’s history of duplicity, its crackdown on its own people after the tainted June presidential elections and President Obama’s concern about being perceived as naïve or susceptible to a policy of Iranian delays.

Mr. Obama, speaking in Washington, called the talks “constructive,” but warned Tehran that he was prepared to move quickly to more stringent sanctions if negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions dragged on.

“We’re not interested in talking for the sake of talking,” Mr. Obama said in remarks to reporters in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room. “If Iran does not take concrete steps, we are not prepared to talk indefinitely.”

France and Britain have spoken of December as an informal deadline for Iran to negotiate seriously about stopping enrichment and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency. American officials say that timeline is “about right,” but Iran continues to insist that it has the right to enrich uranium for what it calls a purely civilian program.

Mr. Obama said Tehran must allow international inspectors into the site near Qum within the next two weeks, a timeline Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, agreed to here.

The atomic energy agency’s director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, will travel to Tehran this weekend to discuss the details and timing of the inspections, officials said. But the Americans also want Iran to cooperate with the inspectors and make personnel and documents about the site near Qum available.

Besides the scheduling of another meeting, the main practical accomplishment on Thursday was Iran’s agreement in principle — to be worked out by experts later this month in Vienna — to ship what American officials called “most” of its declared stockpile of lightly enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into nuclear fuel.

While American officials refused to specify the amount, other Western officials said it could be 1,200 kilograms, or more than 2,600 pounds, of enriched uranium, which could be as much as 75 percent of Iran’s declared stockpile. While there may be hidden stocks of enriched uranium, such a transfer, if it occurs, “buys some time” for further negotiations, a senior American official said.

Given the assessment that Iran now has made enough low-enriched uranium to produce at least one nuclear weapon at some time in the future, a sharp reduction in its stockpile would be “a confidence-building measure to alleviate tensions and buy us some diplomatic space,” the official said.

Israel, the nation most concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran, has been informed of the discussions, another American official said.

Iran’s uranium is enriched to about 3.5 to 5 percent, the officials said; the Tehran reactor for making medical isotopes, last powered by Argentine-made fuel in 1993, needs uranium enriched to 19.75 percent, still far below weapons grade. And that uranium must then be fabricated into metal rods for the reactor.

Iran had told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it needed fuel for the Tehran reactor before December 2010. But Washington, with its allies, pushed the agency to offer Iran the fuel, but made from Iran’s own enriched uranium as a feedstock. That is what Mr. Jalili agreed to in principle on Thursday.

The talks were between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Germany, and led by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

The tone of the discussions, held just outside Geneva, was considerably more positive than just a week ago, after the United States revealed the existence of the uranium enrichment site near Qum and, with its European allies, threatened Iran with tough new sanctions if it refused to halt its uranium enrichment program, which they suspect is meant for creating atomic weapons.

“This was a day very much for the engagement track of the two-track strategy,” a senior American official said, with the second track — increased sanctions — to be discussed only if this new round of negotiations should founder.

After a plenary session in the morning, the participants adjourned to a buffet lunch where informal discussions continued, followed by three more hours of informal bilateral meetings. Those included a 45-minute session between the chief American diplomat here, Under Secretary of State William J. Burns, and Mr. Jalili, in the highest level United States-Iranian talks in three decades.

Mr. Burns raised a range of topics, including the nuclear dispute and the facility near Qum and human-rights issues, American officials said, while the Iranians raised their own concerns, including the need for a world free of nuclear bombs and access to peaceful nuclear energy for all.

Mr. Jalili, in a news conference, called the discussions “good talks that will be a framework for better talks,” and expressed satisfaction that the world had engaged with Iran’s global agenda, which includes nuclear disarmament. He denied that there were any other Iranian nuclear facilities hidden from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Many diplomats and analysts believe that the facility near Qum is only one of a series of hidden installations that Iran has constructed in addition to its publicly acknowledged ones for what is considered to be a military program. Iran insists both that its program is purely peaceful and that it has a right under the non-proliferation treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But it has regularly lied to the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency about its facilities.

Despite the uncertainties, nuclear experts hailed the tentative agreements.

“It’s significant,” David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that tracks nuclear proliferation, said in an interview. “The principle is important.”

Mr. Albright added that the amount of low-enriched uranium to be shipped out of Iran is also significant. Iran’s stockpile has worried some arms controllers, who fear that Tehran may drop out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and further enrich the material into fuel for a bomb, a situation known as breakout.

The new accord would end that prospect — at least for the exported uranium.

Mr. Albright cautioned that the deal would become a real solution to the Iranian crisis only if Tehran expanded the accord to cover all the uranium that it wanted enriched.

“Iran’s made a concession,” he said. “But it has little meaning for the long term unless Iran continues to send out” its uranium for enrichment.

Steven Erlanger reported from Geneva, and Mark Landler from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Helene Cooper from Washington, Sharon Otterman and William J. Broad from New York, and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.

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And now, can we demand that Israel allow international inspectors in to their nuclear sites? No? Why not? What a double standard. Ridiculous!
We should be more worried about Israel bombing Iran than the reverse.

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