PARIS -- As it prepares for two sets of negotiations with outsiders on its disputed nuclear program, Iran said Tuesday that it was converting some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel, the state news agency IRNA reported, potentially limiting the expansion of stockpiles that the West fears could be used for weapons.
Iranian officials are to meet today in Tehran with Herman Nackaerts, the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, who has been pressing for access to a restricted military area at Parchin, 20 miles south of Tehran. International inspectors suspect the site may have been used for testing bomb triggers.
Later this month, Iranian negotiators are to meet in Kazakhstan with representatives of six powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- for a further round in a series of long-running and inconclusive talks about curbing Tehran's nuclear enrichment program.
Western countries suspect that Tehran is seeking to acquire the technology to make nuclear weapons, but Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes like the creation of reactor fuel for civilian use.
At a news conference Tuesday in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was asked to comment on a news report that Iranian scientists had converted some uranium enriched to 20 percent purity into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The spokesman said the "work is being done" and details had been sent to the IAEA, which is based in Vienna.
Iran's nuclear program came under added scrutiny Tuesday after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. Many intelligence officials believe the two countries share nuclear knowledge, though so far there is no hard evidence to substantiate that belief.
Reuters quoted Mr. Mehmanparast as saying, "We think we need to come to a point where no country will have any nuclear weapons." While all countries should be allowed to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, he said, "all weapons of mass destruction and nuclear arms need to be destroyed."
Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium is believed by Western negotiators and international inspectors to be of far lower purity than is required to make nuclear weapons. But, diplomats in Vienna said Tuesday, enriched uranium converted into reactor fuel is more difficult to enrich to a higher degree of purity.
"It's a step away from weaponization," one diplomat said, speaking in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.
Some analysts argue that, by slowing the growth of its stockpile, Tehran could delay the moment when it acquires sufficient 20 percent enriched uranium to trigger a response by Israel, which has signaled readiness to attack Iran's nuclear sites.
The likely outcomes of the forthcoming sets of negotiations remain unclear.
Mr. Mehmanparast said the talks with the IAEA team today in Tehran had "bright" prospects if the IAEA negotiators recognized Iran's rights, IRNA said.
But Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said Monday that "the outlook is not bright" for obtaining permission to visit the Parchin site. Mr. Amano's remarks contrasted with a more optimistic tone from the agency less than a month ago, when his deputy, Mr. Nackaerts, expressed hope that the negotiations today would agree on an inspection plan.