News / Middle East

Iran Offers to End High Quality Uranium Enrichment

Iran's Vice President and head of its Nuclear Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, says his country is ready to stop enriching relatively high-grade uranium, if it is given the nuclear material it needs in accordance with a months-old international proposal.

The past few days have seen several statements from Iranian leaders regarding the country's nuclear activities.

On Thursday, Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is prepared to stop enriching what experts call 20-percent-grade uranium. He said that in return, Iran has requested the International Atomic Energy Agency provide the high-grade uranium that Tehran needs for its research reactor. But, he said, that request has been denied.

The decision by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to enrich uranium to the 20-percent level was made earlier this year, after a draft fuel-swap agreement between Tehran and the IAEA stalled. Despite Salehi's proposal, Iran continues to enrich lower-grade uranium in defiance of IAEA calls to the contrary.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The international community suspects that Iran is trying to build atomic weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimated in June that Tehran has 2.5 tons of 3.5-percent low-grade uranium - enough to produce two nuclear warheads.

The U.N. Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in June, demanding that it cease all enrichment activities. The United States and the European Union followed suit with economic sanctions of their own, which many experts say appear to be affecting the Iranian economy.

Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington says Iran's recent offer might be a good negotiating tactic, but it is not a major offer in the context of the broader nuclear issue.

"If you look at the totality of what the dispute has been around, this is not a major concession," said Vatanka. "This is a concession in the context of the most-recent round of stalemate, and I think it is being pushed most likely by this momentum behind sanctions. But if they are genuine and they really have made what they need for the [Tehran research] reactor, then basically, this is something that they can give up without hurting themselves."

Vatanka says that Iran needs to appear to make conciliatory gestures to appease Russia, China, Brazil and Turkey, which he says have become impatient with Tehran's stance on the nuclear issue.

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