Higher-level traces of uranium found in Iran
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (R) poses with European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) before a meeting in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 23, 2012
May 25th, 2012
01:12 PM ET

Higher-level traces of uranium found in Iran

By Joe Sterling

Inspectors found a high level of enriched uranium in Iran, a U.N. report said Friday, as world powers attempt to work to stop the country from developing the capacity for nuclear weapons.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency asked Iran this month to explain the presence of particles of enrichment levels of up to 27%, found in an analysis of environmental samples taken in February at the Fordo fuel enrichment plant near the city of Qom.

The previous highest level had been 20%, typically used for hospital isotopes and research reactors, but is also seen as a shortcut toward the 90% enrichment required to build nuclear weapons.

Iran said in response that the production of such particles "above the target value" may happen for "technical reasons beyond the operator's control." The IAEA said it is "assessing Iran's explanation and has requested further details."

This development comes a day after Iran held nuclear talks in Baghdad with six nations: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. There had been no breakthrough in discussions.

Iran rejected calls to stop the high enrichment of uranium that can be used for weapons, while the international powers refused Tehran's demand for an immediate end to sanctions crippling its economy.

But the nations plan to meet next month in Moscow for another round of talks.

World powers suspect that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons, and they want to stop the nation from doing so. Iran says its atomic aspirations are for peaceful purposes.

The talks come at a crucial time for Iran. Its economy has been crippled by sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Because 80% of Iran's foreign revenues are derived from oil exports, an embargo by the EU set to go into effect in July will put further pressure on its economy.

Iran threatened this year to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping lane, if sanctions were imposed on its exports of crude oil. Israel, which is believed to have its own nuclear arsenal and is alarmed over Tehran's hostility toward the Jewish state, has said it may attack Iran to try to stop the country from developing nuclear weapons.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said "significant differences remain." But the resolve to continue talks may signal a change in tone, coming after past negotiations that have been marred by threats and allegations of foot-dragging and unreasonable demands.

The world powers made Iran an offer for stopping its processing of medium-enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons, EU officials said.

The proposal also called for Tehran to prove that its nuclear program is being used for peaceful purposes as it claims and comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, according to a Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Asked whether relief from the tough Western sanctions imposed on Iran will be on the table, the same Western official said, "There is no expectation it will happen as a result of this meeting. Iran would need to take significant concrete action first."

Iran's counter-proposal included five areas of nuclear and non-nuclear cooperation, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported late Wednesday.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said world powers are offering support for Iranian economic and agricultural development and the country's civilian nuclear program in exchange for cooperation.

Another idea on the table is an updated version of an offer to swap enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, EU officials said. There had been a proposal to swap most of Iran's low-enriched uranium for fuel rods to power a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Analysts say the change in mood at the negotiating table is positive, but there are mixed feelings about whether a breakthrough can be achieved.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, commended the participants for returning to talks. He said they "didn't give up just because they ran in a stumbling block."

"A feasible solution is to match tangible, verifiable Iranian concessions with a delay of the impending European Union oil embargo," Parsi said. "This would add time to the negotiation clock and buy both sides some breathing space."

Parsi said the Obama administration has mustered political will "to exhaust all options" before the only choice left is military. He notes that negotiations between adversaries in other instances have been painstakingly long, citing the U.S. and Vietnam talks and the negotiations to end conflict in Northern Ireland.

There will be stalemates and steps forward and backward, he said.

"What happened in Baghdad may have somewhat calculated in the sense that there was an awareness that there is enough time for an additional meeting (in Moscow) before European and American sanctions kick in on July 1," he said.

But David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a group devoted to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, said, "the clock is not very friendly at the moment" with a nervous Israel in the backdrop and a high-stakes political atmosphere with the Obama administration facing "aggressive Republicans" in an election year.

"Obama doesn't have years and years," he said. "He has weeks and weeks."

Albright said the Baghdad talks didn't "completely collapse," and the "success of this is that there's another meeting."

But "they need results," he said.

There didn't appear to be the minimal "progress on concrete results" that the United States wanted, such as creating a forum to begin discussing an agreement on enrichment levels. Albright said the sides need to start forging a series of small concessions and incentives before they go to larger steps.

Matthew Kroenig, a nuclear security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believes that "good will" can go only so far and that "room for compromise" will continue to be difficult. He believes that making a "military threat more credible" could help pressure Iran.

He said both sides have an incentive to keep talks going and to keep the impression that the discussions are "fruitful." He said the White House is afraid that if negotiations break down, Israel "will take matters into its own hands," and the United States could be dragged into unwanted war. Iran wants to engage in what are perceived to be a "fruitful" talks to buy time and avoid Israeli action.

"I'm afraid it's really hard for me to see a diplomatic solution to this," Kroenig said.

Dina Esfandiary, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, called the "willingness to continue talks" and understand each other's stance "noteworthy."

"Prior Western concessions on location and time were intended to show their good will, something that has been repeated in choosing Moscow (more sympathetic to Iran's stance) for next month's talks," she said.

She said the talks helped the sides understand which "concessions were wanted and which were unlikely to be granted."

"Whether the talks accomplished anything depends on the goals: If the idea was to walk out with an agreement solving the Iranian nuclear crisis, then no, they haven't accomplished that. But everyone agrees that that was highly unlikely. If the idea was to continue and strengthen confidence-building and the negotiations that began a month ago in Istanbul, then Baghdad was a success," she said.

At present, she said, expectations on each side don't match because "Iran wants recognition of its right to enrich" which other nations have only "hinted at accepting only if Iran proves the peaceful nature of its program first, and this has yet to be resolved."

"Iran is as suspicious of Western intentions as the West is of Iranian tensions. Neither side feels as though compromising more than they have already offered to will serve their interests. The real breakthrough will come when each side feels they have more to gain by compromise than by standing their ground," she said.

She said the success of the Moscow talks will depend world powers' willingness to accept some form of Iranian enrichment.

"This is something Iran has been categorical about. But Iran will also have to take steps to prove the peacefulness of its program and restore what (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton has described as 'the confidence of the international community,' to the extent where the international community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich."

One scenario she cited is a "freeze-for-freeze" system.

"Iranians must be willing to discuss relinquishing progress on their nuclear program if they want the West to consider delaying and possibly lifting sanctions. But it is hard to tell what Iran will do. Of course, an ideal outcome would be for both sides to come prepared to make concessions in order to come to a lasting agreement that addresses the problem, but this is unlikely to happen. Even if Iran's negotiating team agrees to certain terms, they will have to have it approved back home."

Esfandiary doubts Iran would agree to suspend 20% enrichment "even for a short period of time and won't agree to forgo it completely."

But she said that "exploiting the slightest chance of a temporary halt and framing the negotiations in terms of a step-by-step approach, beginning with a series of confidence-building measures from both sides, will enable the P5+1 to judge Iran's willingness to conduct serious negotiations. As with everyone else, I am hopeful but doubtful that Iran would accept such conditions."

The United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany are called the P5+1, a reference to Germany plus the other nations, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Another name for the group is the E3+3, a reference to the European countries of Germany, France and Britain, and the others.

The French foreign ministry on Friday echoed the concerns and resolve of the world powers, saying they presented a "package of concrete measures to build confidence that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively for civilian purposes.

"Iran must then be in a position to respond constructively to our proposals so that a genuine negotiation process leading to concrete results can be initiated. Failing this, we shall be prompted to take new measures, in line with the two-pronged approach combining openness to dialogue and sanctions."

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Filed under: IAEA • Iran • Nuclear
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. stanleykubrick

    @Sir Arthur Conan Doyle . You're an imbecile.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  2. mike

    Why would they stop when they are so close....Im sure it took decades of research the tech need to get to this point so they eare on the home stretch. If they do continue to enrich and develope a wepon they no that other countries will have no choice but to respect them as a new nucleaer power

    May 27, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  3. Thor

    Let's stop this blatant Israeli propaganda CNN...

    The people of my country are quite sick of this kind of fear peddling.

    May 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  4. seesthethreat

    Anyone who thinks the Iranian nuclear program isn't intended to produce a nuclear weapon should be home safe with Mother. The sanctions have hurt Iran, and will hurt more, but if they don't care about their own citizens then they will probably continue.

    May 26, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
    • Phil in Oregon

      Yep, they will talk about talking and talk about the details of the talks, but they won't stop working until someone(like George Bush) stops them.

      May 26, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
      • Thor

        Yep, let's send our boys to loose a few feet and a couple of testicles.....

        I'm sure we will pull off another brilliant decade long counter insurgency..

        What could go wrong??

        May 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Thinker23

    I'm waiting for those claiming that Iran does not have any intentions to make nuclear weapons... How can these findings be explained? Of course, they explain the reasons it took so long to Iranian leaders to allow inspectors in...

    May 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      I am sure that after I contact GE and Seimans and find out how ,many nuclear-reading medical machines there are in Iran, and if we suppose that everyone in Iran has Cancer and needs testing and therapy with radioactive isotopes that the conclusion will be that if each and every nuclear-reading and nuclear-treating machine in Iran were to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that Iran presently has enough nuclear material to last for the next 250,000 years. Secondly, American intelligence has from time to time posted satellite photos of each and every Iranian reactor site. While Iran continues to staste that it has no interest in creating nuclear weapons, at no time has Iran denied that these photos represent their reactor sites. No denials on CNN, not even denials on Iranian State Media or on Al Jazeera. Not one of the photoggraphs show that Iran's electrical power grid is anywhere within 1,000 miles of any of these reactors. So the enrichment is not for radioisotopes and not for electricity. So they are making plutonium for bombs which they have already pledged will be dropped on Israel. So after the Iranians kill all of the people in Israel, more than half of whom are either Palestinians or guest workers from Europe who are Christians, then the fallout will kill several tens or hundreds of Sunni Muslims that live in places like Egypt and Jordan and Syria. While many Sunni Muslims don't much like Israel, they are sane and reasonable people who if they knew that they would be the collateral damage of Iran's stated goal to destroy Israel would ask their governments to join NAto and the Israelies in bombing Iranian missiles and Iranian reactors. So were I the Negotiator instead of the fat bewildered and ackward-looking fat European cow that was sent it Iran, I would simply explain that if 95% of all of this enriched Yellowcake ( Enriched to 20% Uranium ore) was not turned-over to Nato in the next two weeks, that it would be "removed in about 20 minutes by the US Air Force. I suggest that Halliburton is grossly undervalued. Buy as many shares as you can! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      May 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  6. Moe

    Iran will have nukes by 1986, says AP article, April 25, 1984: "Iran is
    likely to have its own nuclear bomb within two years, according to press
    reports cited by Jane's Defense Weekly. The magazine, part of the
    authoritative Jane's Publications on weapons systems, said Tuesday that
    reports from the Persian Gulf region last week indicated the bomb was
    being produced at a nuclear power plant in Boushahar, southern Iran."

    Or
    maybe 2000, says AFP, December 4, 1991: "Iran will be able to build a
    nuclear bomb by the year 2000 if it keeps up its present military
    activities, German intelligence chief Konrad Porzner said."

    Or sometime between 1995 and 2000, says the Washington Post,
    October 18, 1992: "Gen. Uri Saguy, the head of Israel's military
    intelligence, estimates that Iran will have a nuclear capability by the
    end of the decade; British and French intelligence officials predict
    that Iran might join the nuclear club even earlier. Mohammed
    Mohaddessin, an adviser to the National Council of Resistance of Iran,
    said during a recent visit to Washington that he believes Iran will have
    nuclear devices within three to five years."

    Or perhaps in 1999,
    according to AP, February 12, 1993: "Iran now poses the greatest threat
    to Israel's security, a leading Israeli newspaper said today, quoting
    experts who predicted Tehran would have an atomic bomb within six
    years."

    No, more likely 2000, according to the Guardian,
    January 6, 1995: "Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than
    previously thought, and could be less than five years from having an
    atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say. 'The
    date by which Iran will have nuclear weapons is no longer 10 years from
    now,' a senior official said recently, referring to previous estimates.
    'If the Iranians maintain this intensive effort to get everything they
    need, they could have all their components in two years. Then it will be
    just a matter of technology and research. If Iran is not interrupted in
    this program by some foreign power, it will have the device in more or
    less five years.'"

    Or, holy crap, they already have them, says
    AFP, April 9, 1998: "Iran obtained several nuclear warheads from a
    former Soviet republic in the early 1990s, according to Iranian
    documents obtained by Israel and revealed in The Jerusalem Post newspaper Thursday."

    You
    get the idea. Hmmm. There's a common thread here that the Rude Pundit
    can't quite figure out, a nation involved in this fearmongering that has
    controlled a great deal of U.S. foreign policy in the region for
    decades. It's on the tip of his tongue. Gosh, he really wishes he could
    connect the dots. Of course, if one does ever connect 'em, one will
    automatically be accused of being anti...well, something or other.

    May 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Moe... It took less than 3 years to the Americans to build, test and use atomic bombs FROM SCRATCH 68 years ago using technology of the 1940s.. Can you explain the reasons Iranians CAN NOT do the same today using technology of 2012?

      May 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
      • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

        One of the reasons is that the Americans had guys named Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer and Teller working on the Hiroshima bomb and all of these fellows just happen to be Jewish. Nikita Kruschev stated that the the USSR owed its atomic bomb to Jewish scientists. Iran, like the Third Reich had a policy of killing their Jewish scientists, and anyone else who happened to be Jewish.. So exterminating Jews is both bad for business and bad for scientific development as well. The second problem is that in order to receive a degree in Nuclear Physics from an Iranian or Pakistani university, all one has to do is to show-up and to bribe the professor. India had the benefit of some scientists that had worked in America's program and a Russian Style education system that produces brilliant scientists. In Pakistan, to receive a degree in Nuclear Physics one must also pass courses in the interpretation of the Koran. While the Koran is an important religious work, it likely isn't of much help in figuring out how to make a nuclear trigger.Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

        May 25, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  7. Hahahahahahha

    It's an honest over enrichment!!! Really it is! We didn't know how to shut off the machine!!!! Hahahahahahaha

    May 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  8. Rastro

    Roh roh!

    May 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply

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