Iran is slowing down its uranium enrichment efforts and appears to be signaling that it wants to avoid a direct confrontation over its nuclear program, United States and other Western officials estimate.
According to the New York Times, the action has led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s leaders are showing signs that they may be more interested in a deal to end the nuclear standoff with the West.
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Evidence began emerging last summer that Iran was diverting a significant portion of its medium-enriched uranium for use in a small research reactor, converting it into a form that cannot easily be used in a weapon, the New York Times reported.
One US official said the move amounted to trying to “put more time on the clock to solve this,” characterizing it as a step “you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated.”
Ahmadinejad in uranium enrichment facility (Photo: AP)
He echoed the words of Defense minister Ehud Barak, who said in October that Israel could safely back away from threats of military action against Iran.
Meanwhile, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials all cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about Iran’s ultimate intentions, according to the NYT.
A new round of nuclear talks between Iran and six major powers is expected next year, and US officials say they still cannot determine whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is ready to strike a deal.
Supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khanenei (Photo: MCT)
A US effort to engage in direct talks with Tehran after President Obama’s re-election last month resulted in “no real response,” another senior official said, adding: “It wasn’t that they said yes or no. They said nothing.”
According to the paper, evidence from a variety of sources, including the IAEA, suggests that as Iran produced more uranium enriched to near 20% purity, a process that takes it most of the way to bomb-grade fuel, it began diverting some into an oxide powder that could be used in a small research reactor in Tehran. That diversion is believed to have begun in August.
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