[original article in Entekhab]
According to a New York Times article, one month until the self-imposed deadline to reach a final agreement with Iran, international inspectors have reported that in the past eighteen months Iran has increased its uranium enrichment by 20%.
This new information now brings into question the Obama administration’s claim that during these negotiations Iran’s nuclear program has been on hold. Western officials and experts are unable to determine the reason for this problem. One possible explanation is that, for technical reasons, Iran was unable to convert this portion of the enriched uranium to the fuel rods for the required reactors. The work on this nuclear material is built for non-weaponry use.
Another reason could be that Iran increased its reserves of enriched uranium in the event that the negotiations fail. Keep in mind that it was this past Friday, the 5th, that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on Iran’s increased level of enriched uranium.
With the IAEA inspectors having virtually daily access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, have not reported any signs of Iran trying to build a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, they (IAEA) have stressed that although Iran could begin to improve its ability in building a bomb, they have instead done the opposite.
This increase in Iran’s enriched uranium has created a political and diplomatic challenge for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. In principle, the Obama administration has to convince the US Congress and American allies that after Iran signs the agreement, in the coming months they will reduce their nuclear storage by 96%. And this is comes at a time when Iran continues to produce new [nuclear] materials and their reduction of current materials has not been quite successful.
Richard Nephew, Program Director on Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets at the Center of Global Energy Policy at Columbia University – who also worked at the White House and the Defense Department – believes that Iran increasing its materials is not a deal breaker because once sanctions are lifted Iran will find other ways to solve this problem.
If an agreement is signed, it will allow Iran to keep 300 kilograms or about 660 pounds of nuclear fuel. This is less than the amount needed to build a nuclear bomb. This means that Iran – who insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only – must reduce its uranium reserves by 90 tons in the coming months of the agreement. One of the easiest ways to do this is by sending that material out of the country – something Iran is opposed to.