Iran suspends uranium enrichment

Josh Layton – The Guardian Nov 4, 2012

Iran has suspended the enrichment of uranium stockpiles to the 20% purity needed to bring it a short step from building a nuclear device, news services in the region have reported.

Mohammad Hossein Asfari, a member of parliament responsible for foreign policy and national security, was quoted as saying that the move was a “goodwill” gesture, aimed at softening Iran’s position before a new round of scheduled talks with the United States after this week’s presidential elections.

Asfari said he hoped sanctions would be lifted in return for Iran’s actions, otherwise it would resume the programme, according to a website belonging to the Al Arabiya news channel. Talks aimed at halting Iran’s enrichment programme have made little progress, leading to the west tightening sanctions and increasing the prospect of military action by Israel.

The Islamic republic’s economy has plummeted in the grip of punitive economic measures and Tehran indicated earlier this month that it would be willing to negotiate. However, the offer to suspend enrichment required so many concessions that it was dismissed by the United States.

Iran has a stockpile of 20% uranium weighing just over 90kg (200lb), according to an International Energy Agency watchdog report in August. Experts say between 200-250kg is needed for one nuclear device. Once uranium reaches 20% purity, it is close to becoming weapons grade. Experts have estimated it would take Iran another year to produce a warhead small enough to put on a missile.

Tehran is said to have nearly completed a nuclear enrichment plan with the last of 3,000 uranium centrifuges installed at the underground site of Fordo, near the holy city of Qum.

The machines were working at only half capacity, but the development was a crucial step in developing a nuclear device, the New York Times reported.

Israel has drawn a “red line” in spring next year based on its own calculations, when it could launch a pre-emptive military strike to stop the programme.

Iran has said it needs to refine uranium for civilian use, with the material converted to fuel rods used for medical isotopes to diagnose and treat illnesses

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