Iran's latest claim of a breakthrough in its nuclear program seems unlikely to bring it any closer to having atomic bombs soon, but serves rather as another defiant message to the West.
This week's announcement that Iran has successfully made and tested fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants appeared designed to show that sanctions are failing to halt its technical advances and to strengthen its hand in any renewed negotiations with the major powers.
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Spent fuel can be reprocessed to make plutonium, potential bomb material, but Western worries about Iran's nuclear program are focused on its enrichment of uranium, which can also provide the core of nuclear weapons if refined much more.
"The (fuel rod) development itself doesn't put them any closer to producing weapons," said Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, a US-based research and advocacy group.
Bushehr nuclear power plant (Photo: Reuters)
It could be a way of telling Tehran's foes that time is running out if they want to revive an atomic fuel swap deal that collapsed two years ago but is still seen by some experts as offering the best chance to start building badly needed trust.
Diplomats believe Iran has in the past overstated its nuclear progress to gain leverage in its standoff with Western capitals, and the testing of domestically made fuel does not mean the country is about to start using it to run reactors.
"It is a step in the direction of no longer needing supply from other countries," said Associate Professor Matthew Bunn of Harvard University's Kennedy School.
"But it will be a good number of months or years before it will be at the point where they no longer need supply from other countries."
Even if the fuel step is confirmed, it may not add much to already growing Western suspicions that Iran is seeking the capability to manufacture nuclear arms, a charge it denies.
Turkey's FM in Tehran for nuke talks
Western powers fear that Iran's uranium enrichment program is part of a covert bid to develop the means to build atomic weapons – suspicions that were given independent weight by a detailed UN nuclear watchdog report late last year.
The Islamic Republic says it is refining uranium – material which can have both civilian and military purposes – only for a planned network of nuclear power plants and it could point to the development of fuel rods to back this up.
Ahmet Davutoglu's visit was described as being in the framework of regular talks between the two ministers, but it comes at a key time for the region and relations between the two regional powers.
"It is intended that they will exchange views on topical subjects such as Iran's nuclear program and developments in Syria and Iraq," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Davutoglu's visit was set to finish on Thursday.
Dudi Cohen contributed to the report
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