Iran reduces near weapons grade stockpile, defying expectations

    REGION  27 February 2024 - 13:47

    Iran reduced its stockpile of near weapons-grade nuclear material over the past 3½ months, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said on February 26, a surprise step likely to be welcomed by Western countries who have been alarmed by Iran’s buildup of highly enriched nuclear fuel.

    Iran still has enough near-weapons grade material to fuel almost three nuclear weapons, underlining its status as a threshold nuclear-weapon state. However, by diluting some of its 60 per cent enriched uranium in recent weeks to lower-grade material, its stockpile fell for the first time since it started producing the 60 per cent nuclear fuel in 2021, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    Iran’s decision to reduce its stockpile of 60 per cent nuclear fuel comes as Iranian-backed militias are involved in clashes throughout the Middle East with Israel and the US, from Yemen’s Houthi attacks on international vessels in the Red Sea to Israel’s clashes with Hezbollah on its northern border and conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

    It also comes as Washington and its European partners have floundered over how to respond to Iran’s expanding nuclear program.

    In its confidential quarterly report, sent to member states on February 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had reduced its stockpile of 60 per cent enriched uranium by 6.8 kilograms to 121.5 kilograms since late October.

    US officials say it would take Iran less than two weeks to convert that amount into weapons grade material, roughly 90 per cent. Tehran is the only nonnuclear weapons state producing 60 per cent enriched uranium.

    By the IAEA’s definition, Iran needs a minimum of 42 kg of uranium enriched to 60 per cent to make a nuclear bomb.

    Iran continued to build up its stockpile of lower-purity enriched uranium. It added 145.1 kilograms to its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium which experts say could be increased to weapons grade level within several weeks. Uranium enriched to around 90 per cent can be used to fuel nuclear bombs. Iran now has 712 kilograms of 20 per cent enriched uranium.

    Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes. US officials have said Iran could field a nuclear weapon within several months.

    The Biden administration has upheld longstanding US policy of pledging that it will prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

    The reduction in 60 per cent enriched uranium will offer some respite to the US and its European partners who have grown increasingly concerned about the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program.

    The Biden administration failed in its efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which lifted international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for tight but temporary limits on its nuclear work. So did an attempted de-escalation effort last year which grew out of indirect discussions between senior US and Iranian officials in Oman.

    The indirect talks ended after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Tehran praised the attack.

    Iran had slowed its production of 60 per cent enriched uranium last year as part of its de-escalation efforts. However, Iran reversed that slowdown in November, the agency said late last year.

    In recent weeks, Iran twice carried out a process of diluting the material by mixing it with low-grade 2 per cent enriched uranium.

    Caliber.Az

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