Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From the New York Times
October 20, 2009
Iran Issues Threat as Talks Begin

VIENNA — Iran on Monday opened two days of nuclear talks with the United States, Russia and France with veiled threats that it could back away from an agreement reached this month to ship more than three-quarters of its stockpile of nuclear fuel out of the country, unless the West accedes to Iranian demands for new fuel.

The threats, broadcast on Iranian television and in statements from the country’s atomic energy organization, may have simply been negotiating tactics ahead of negotiations that started in Vienna, the city that saw so many Cold War nuclear talks between the United States and the Soviet Union.

In the runup to the talks, President Obama’s aides said the talks, while advertised as a meeting of technical experts about a proposal to ship three-quarters of Iran’s nuclear fuel out of the country for conversion into a form that could be useful in a medical research reactor, would take on far more importance.

“By the end of these next two days,” one senior administration official in Washington said, “we’ll know if the Iranians are serious and whether we have time” to pursue further diplomacy with Iran without fearing that it could race ahead to produce a weapon.

After the talks adjourned for the evening, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is playing host, told reporters that it was “quite a constructive meeting.” He did not elaborate on what was discussed.

If Iran carries through on what the European nations said was its commitment on Oct. 1 to temporarily send its nuclear fuel to Russia and France, Washington will be able to claim that its diplomacy reduced the threat of an Iranian “nuclear breakout,” a sudden race to convert reactor fuel into bomb fuel.

Iran’s total known stockpile of fuel amounts to enough for one to two bombs, if it were further enriched. If it exports that fuel for further refinement abroad, experts believe it could not replace it for another year.

But in recent days the Iranians have repeatedly suggested that they may not ship the fuel out of the country at all, and would demand that the West sell it new fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, which is used largely for medical purposes. That would leave the existing fuel in the country, a situation that the United States, Europe and Israel has said is too dangerous, given Iran’s history of hiding nuclear activity from international inspectors.

“The talks will be a test of the sincerity of those countries,” Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Ali Sharisdian said. “Should talks fail or sellers refuse to provide Iran with its required fuel, Iran will enrich uranium to the 20 percent level needed itself,” he said.

So far Iran is not known to have enriched fuel beyond 5 percent, the level needed for reactors. Enrichment at 90 percent or more is needed for a sophisticated weapon.

Next Sunday the I.A.E.A. is also supposed to begin inspecting Iran’s just-revealed enrichment center at Qum, beneath a mountain on an Iranian revolutionary guard site.

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