TEHRAN: Iran has temporarily halted its production of enriched uranium to 20 percent purity as it has sufficient stocks to fuel its Tehran research reactor, a lawmaker was quoted Thursday as saying.
“There is no production at all ... as right now there is no need for the production of 20 percent [enriched] uranium,” the Parliament website reported conservative MP Hossein Naqavi Hosseini as saying.
Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is at the core of its dispute with world powers, who suspect it masks a drive for atomic weapons despite repeated denials by the Islamic Republic.
Enriching uranium to 20 percent purity is a few technical steps short of producing weapons-grade fissile material.
There was no immediate comment on the report from the government, from Iran’s atomic organization, nor from the nuclear team tasked with negotiating with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities are monitored by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Vienna-based agency said it was aware of the report but had no comment on it.
“We’re aware of this report but I’m afraid we’re not commenting right now,” IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor told AFP via email.
The parliamentary website, ICANA.ir, further quoted Naqavi Hosseini as saying the fuel for the Tehran reactor, which is used to produce medical isotopes, is fully stocked.
“This site currently has the required fuel and there is no need to produce [the 20 percent],” Naqavi Hosseini said.
“ Tehran itself decides whether to have above 5 percent enrichment or not. But the issue of suspension and halt is at the moment meaningless as there is no production at all,” he said, referring to Western demands that Tehran suspends the high-level enrichment.
Naqavi Hosseini is the spokesman for the foreign policy commission, which is regularly briefed on Iran’s nuclear work.
Declarations by members of the commission have on occasions been denied by the government.
All decisions on Iran’s nuclear program rest with the ultimate decision-maker, leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran insists it will not bow to pressure to end its enrichment program despite repeated demands by the U.N. Security Council and several rounds of sanctions.
Demands that the program be halted were again put forward earlier this year in the Kazakh city of Almaty, in talks between Iran and the P5+1 group – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany.
The halting of the sensitive work could be crucial in resolving the long-running showdown in the negotiations, which were revived last week in Geneva and are set to resume in November.
In the talks, Iran is seeking the lifting of international sanctions which have damaged its struggling economy. World powers for their part are seeking to ensure that Tehran is not able to develop nuclear weapons.
The White House was due to host a meeting of aides to Senate committee leaders Thursday seeking to persuade lawmakers to hold off on a package of tough new sanctions against Iran, a senior Senate aide said.The White House will press for another delay on a sanctions bill that had been expected to come to a vote in the Senate Banking Committee last month, but was held back after appeals from President Barack Obama’s administration to let negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program get underway.
The aide said Republicans would resist further delay, but that the decision was in the hands of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, the committee’s chairman, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also a Democrat.
Aides to Johnson and Reid were not immediately available to comment.
While Congress has sought harsher sanctions on Iran, the administration wants more time to give negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program a chance.
“Congress has been an important partner in our efforts thus far. We will continue our close consultation, as we have in the past, so that any congressional action is aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
“Today’s meeting is part of these ongoing consultations, following on the recent P5+1 talks with Iran,” she said, referring to the six powers.