U.N.'s nuclear report on Iran may not be all bad news for West

Wed Nov 14, 2012 8:58am EST
 
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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran is believed to have increased the number of centrifuges in an underground nuclear plant by nearly a third in three months, diplomats say, underlining the tough task facing major powers pressing Tehran to curb its atomic activity.

But despite a major expansion of its capacity to refine uranium at the Fordow facility, buried deep inside a mountain, Iran does not appear to have switched on its newly installed enrichment centrifuges yet, although this could happen soon, they said.

A U.N. report on Iran's nuclear program is also likely to show this week that it continues to use some of its most sensitive material for reactor fuel, at least temporarily making it unavailable for any quick atom bomb bid.

This could help in "buying more time for dialogue", a Western diplomat said, referring to international efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the decade-old dispute and avert the threat of a new Middle East war.

It may also explain why Israel, assumed to be the region's only nuclear-armed state, recently signaled that an attack on the Islamic Republic's nuclear sites was not imminent, after months of speculation that it might be.

But another Western envoy said the fact that Iran was converting some of its higher-grade uranium gas, a short technical step from weapons-grade material, into oxide powder for fuel should not distract from its bigger nuclear defiance.

"They haven't addressed the (U.N. nuclear agency's) questions, they haven't suspended their enrichment as required by the U.N. Security Council, so anything else they are doing around the margin is beside the point," this diplomat said.

The conversion of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent into fuel is also reversible as long as it has not been introduced into a working reactor, although it would take a few months to turn it back into gas form, security experts say.   Continued...

 
Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl