Officials are mulling whether the U.S. will reverse course and allow Iran to carry out uranium enrichment to produce nuclear fuel only, not weapons-grade material, according to a report in London’s Financial Times.
Such a concession, being considered as part of a policy review by President Barack Obama, would be a sea change from the Bush administration’s hard-line policy of forbidding uranium enrichment per se.
The development comes superimposed on a backdrop of familiar rhetorical saber-rattling by both countries – with Iran on Monday lambasting Obama’s continued characterization of Iran as a “threat,” according to a report in Reuters.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi reacted to a speech by Obama in Prague declaring that the U.S. would go ahead with plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe as long as Iran posed a threat with its nuclear activities.
“It seems that the repetition of the past U.S. administration’s accusations (against Iran) would be in contrast with the slogan of change (by Obama),” Qashqavi said.
But such old-style bickering may mask a starting breakthrough in the persisting U.S.-Iran nuclear impasse.
“There is a growing recognition in [Washington] that the zero [enrichment] solution, though still favored, simply is unfeasible,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, according to the Times. “The U.S. may still have zero as its opening position, while recognizing it may not be where things stand at the end of a potential agreement.”
Although Obama’s Prague declarations were disturbing to Qashqavi, key verbiage hinted at the very change that he found lacking. Obama’s overall message to Iran was, “Don’t develop a nuclear weapon.” Former President George W. Bush was always dead-on specific in calling Iran to halt all enrichment activity, according to the Times.
Meanwhile, a long series of U.N. Security Council resolutions has not minced words – forbidding Iran from all enriching uranium. The European Union, Russia and China have all in the past backed U.S. demands for Iran to halt the process.
A perennially defiant Tehran has stepped up its enrichment activities, installing more than 5,500 centrifuges to enrich uranium. Furthermore, it has systematically collected a stockpile of more than 1,000 kg of low-enriched uranium – a quantity that if further enriched could produce fissile material for one bomb.
Any U.S. backtracking on the enrichment touchstone, however, would ideally be countered by allowing increased access for U.N. inspectors to acquire more information about Iran’s enrichment plant in Natanz and other nuclear-related hotspots across the country.
The greater transparency, according to the Times report would allow for warning of any move to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels at such sites.
But even with the current limited inspections at Natanz, there may be enough warning of a move toward a nuclear bomb, some Israeli and U.S. officials privately advise, according to the Times.
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