US sees hopeful sign in Iran pausing 20% stockpile

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The Obama administration sees a potentially encouraging sign in the fact that Iran held flat its stockpile of higher enriched uranium last summer, the New York Times reports. However, analysts note that Iran subsequently resumed growing its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium in the fall and suggested the Iranian leadership’s intentions remain unclear.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran had diverted almost half its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium for medical use, thus keeping its stockpile of the higher enriched fuel steady at 91kg between May and August.

“One American official said the move amounted to trying to ‘put more time on the clock to solve this,’ characterizing it as a step ‘you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated,’” the New York Times’ David Sanger and James Risen reported Thursday (Dec. 27).

However, the latest IAEA Iran report from November shows that diversion of 20% fuel for medical purposes had not continued in the fall. Rather, Iran resumed adding to its 20% stockpile, which had grown to almost 135 KG by November 18th. (It would take about 200 KG of 20% enriched uranium to be higher enriched to weapons grade — 90% purity–to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb.)

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian told the Back Channel the explanation for the temporary diversion is simple: Iran has now produced enough 20% enriched uranium to build the fuel rods needed for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces isotopes to treat Iranian cancer patients. Thus, “from now on and as a confidence building [measure], Tehran [can] try either to convert or to slow down the production amount,” Mousavian said by email Friday.

However, given that the pause in Iran’s growth in its 20% stockpile did not continue into the fall, some Iran and arms control analysts expressed puzzlement at the US official’s reported assessment of the development, noting it comes amid a lot of mixed signals.

“There’s a real effort to indicate that things are going swimmingly and that a resumption of talks is imminent,” Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Back Channel Friday, adding his own view is that is “overly optimistic.”

“With the latest evidence”— that Iran had resumed growing its 20% stockpile—“there is less of a reason” to be confident in what Iran intended to signal with its diversion of 20% uranium for medical purposes last summer, the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann told the Back Channel Friday. “Not that it removes it entirely. It still applies.” Continue reading

Blame it on Rio? Israeli delegate says Iran’s Ahmadinejad waved at them

Much to their surprise, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly nodded and waved to the Israeli delegation as he passed by them to address the Rio+20 United Nations Sustainable Development summit held in Brazil June 20-22.

“To the surprise of the Foreign Ministry officials, when the lunatic and his people rose from their seats, they broke with tradition and passed by us rather than go through a detour,” Israeli Knesset Member Shama  Hacohen wrote on his Facebook page, the Algemeiner newspaper reports.

“Despite the sign that says ‘Israel’ on my desk and the lapel pin on my jacket, he nodded and smiled toward us,” Hacohen wrote, explaining, according to the paper, that “the Iranians’ normal procedure is to take a detour around Israeli representatives, instead of walking past them directly.”

Meantime, Ahmadinejad was taking heat from Iranian lawmakers for not leaving Brazil after reportedly being snubbed by Brazil’s president. Banners saying “Ahmadinejad go home” greeted the controversial Iranian leader upon his arrival in the city June 20th, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reportedly declined to meet with the Iranian president, who said last week that he will leave politics after his second presidential term expires next year.

“After the disrespect Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was met with in the airport of Brazil, he should have returned to Tehran, MP Avaz Heydarpour of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee said, Mehr reported,” Iran’s Trend news wrote. Continue reading