Iran announces deep cut in enriched uranium stash

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Iran has recently converted more than 40 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium to fuel rods for use in a civilian reactor and is in the process of converting the rest, the country's nuclear chief has announced on state television.

The claim aired by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was the latest signal from newly inaugurated President Hassan Rouhani's government that Tehran is working to allay Western fears about its nuclear programs.

Mr. Rouhani last week moved to transfer authority from Iran's religious hierarchy to his elected government for nuclear programs and international negotiations on their scope and transparency. The move was hailed by both the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and the six world powers that have been at work for the last two years trying to ensure that Iran isn't preparing to build nuclear weapons.

"Although we know the nuclear case against us is fabricated, we are ready to relieve the other side's concern," Mr. Salehi said in the televised Thursday night interview, reported by the semiofficial Fars News Agency on Friday.

The United States and its Western allies have been demanding that Iran cease enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, a level above that needed for civilian nuclear energy production and one that can be easily converted to weapon-grade fuel.

Tehran has refused to scuttle its enrichment activities, citing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows nations to process uranium for civilian uses such as energy production and medical research.

Mr. Salehi said Iran had recently reduced its 240-kilogram stock of 20 percent uranium to 140 kilograms, a 42 percent drop, by converting it to fuel rods for a medical research reactor. He also said the rest of the stockpile was being converted as well. Experts say about 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of 20 percent uranium is sufficient to build one nuclear bomb once the fuel has been further enriched to 90 percent purity.

Talks between Tehran and the IAEA are to resume Sept. 27 in Vienna, after a four-month hiatus during the spring election campaign and Aug. 3 inauguration of Mr. Rouhani. A legal scholar and senior cleric, Mr. Rouhani was seen as moderate in comparison with the seven other hard-line presidential candidates and pulled off a surprising first-ballot win.

Middle East analysts have reacted to the recent Iranian overtures with a wait-and-see attitude, noting that the changes in Iran's nuclear posture since Mr. Rouhani became president are more in tone than in substance.

Some point out that Mr. Rouhani, who was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator before former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's leadership, did little to convince international monitors then that Iran's programs were purely peaceful.

"What Rouhani is looking for is to buy the time that he needs to move the program forward" toward nuclear weapon capability, said Alireza Jafarzadeh, an author and analyst from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a dissident exile group.



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