News / Middle East

Diplomats: Iran Acts to Expand Sensitive Nuclear Capacity

 Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013. Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
 Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, attends a news conference at the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2013.
A U.N. nuclear agency report due this week is expected to show Iran further increasing its capacity to produce material that its adversaries fear could eventually be used to develop atomic bombs, Western diplomats said on Tuesday.

But they said it also is likely to indicate that growth in Iran's most sensitive nuclear stockpile has been held back because some of it has been used for reactor fuel, potentially providing more time for diplomacy between Iran and major powers.

Tehran's holding of medium-enriched uranium gas is closely watched in the West as Israel, which has threatened air strikes if diplomacy and sanctions do not stop Iran's atomic drive, says Iran must not amass enough for one bomb if further processed.

Critics say Iran is trying to achieve the capability to make atomic arms. Iran denies this, saying it needs nuclear power for energy generation and medical purposes and that it is Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal that threatens regional peace.

The next quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], expected on Wednesday, is likely to show continued installation of the centrifuges used for enriching uranium, diplomats said.

That would include an advanced model known as IR-2m, which once operational, would enable Iran to sharply speed up its accumulation of refined uranium that can have both civilian and military purposes.

The number of IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings that have been put in place at Iran's main enrichment site near the town of Natanz is expected to have risen significantly since February, when it stood at 180, they said.

Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s-vintage IR-1 machines it now uses, but introducing new models has been dogged by technical hurdles and difficulty in obtaining key parts abroad.

“We expect that they've continued to install more advanced centrifuges at Natanz,” said one diplomat.

Another Western envoy said Iran also was believed to be pressing ahead in the construction of a research reactor, which  experts say could offer it a second way of producing material for a nuclear bomb, if it decided to embark on such a course.

Nuclear analysts say the type of reactor that Iran is building near the town of Arak could yield plutonium for nuclear arms if the spent fuel is reprocessed, something Iran has said it has no intention of doing.

Nuclear stockpile

Diplomats also will scrutinize the IAEA report for what it has to say about Iran's possession of medium-enriched uranium as this represents a technical threshold relatively close to the level required for nuclear bombs.

Since Iran in 2010 began processing uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, it has produced more than the 240-250 kg that would be needed for one bomb, if refined more.

But while the stockpile has expanded, Iran still has kept it below Israel's stated “red line” by converting a large part of the uranium gas into oxide powder in order, Tehran says, to yield fuel for a medical research reactor in the capital.

As a result, the increase in the holding of 20 percent gas has been less than the production. In February, the stockpile was 167 kg, a rise of roughly 18-19 kg since the previous report in December, but a significant slowdown from a 50-percent jump in the previous three-month period.

“It seems that they are converting nearly all the material that they are producing,” said a Western official.

But while the uranium conversion activity may postpone any decision by Israel on whether to strike Iranian nuclear sites, Western diplomats made clear Tehran must do much more in order to allay suspicions about its atomic program.

Turning uranium gas into oxide powder in order to make fuel plates also may be just a temporary positive development because the process is possible to reverse, Western experts say.

The six world powers involved in diplomacy with Iran - the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and China - want it to stop refining uranium to 20 percent and suspend work at the underground Fordow site where most of this work is pursued.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs