US ‘Perplexed’ by NYT Story on Increase in Iran’s Nuclear Fuel

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said she was “perplexed” by a New York Times report Tuesday on a 20% increase in Iran's nuclear fuel stockpile over the past 18 months.

The NYT story cites an International Atomic Energy Agency report on Friday that documented the increase of Iran’s low-enriched nuclear fuel stockpile.

The term "low enriched uranium" (LEU) refers to uranium at up to 5% enrichment.

When a reporter asked Harf if Iran’s increased stockpiles of LEU has complicated the current negotiations, Harf replied: “Not at all. Our team read that story this morning and was quite frankly perplexed because the main contentions of it are totally inaccurate.”

Harf explained: “First, the notion in the story that western officials or US officials involved were unaware of this issue or not understanding of what this entails is just absurd. Under the JPOA (Joint Plan of Action), Iran can fluctuate its numbers in terms of the stockpile. They can go up and down. As long as at the end of fixed date they are back down below a number.”

"The notion that this is some obstacle is just patently absurd,” she stated flatly. “They are permitted, again, to do what they're doing here, and they've always gone where they need to be. We expect they will again here.”

“What matters is that they [Iran] have committed already, and we said publicly, to reducing their stockpile – whenever this is implemented – to 300 kilograms,” Harf said. “The notion that this is some big issue of concern of negotiation is more manufacturing a controversy than actual reality. Everyone who read that story this morning was totally perplexed by it.”

However, the Institute for Science and International Security doubts whether Iran can meet its obligations regarding 5 percent low enriched uranium, even if it wants to.

Authors David Albright and Serene Kelleher-Vergantini assessed that “From January 20, 2014 and into May 2015 Iran produced about 4,000 kilograms of 3.5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride. Under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA), Iran has committed to convert all newly produced 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride into oxide form. As of May 2015, it has fed a total of 2,720 kilograms of this type of LEU into the conversion process at the Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP) and produced only about 150 kilograms of LEU dioxide. It has not fed any LEU hexafluoride into the plant since November 2014. Thus, Iran has fallen behind in its pledge to convert its newly produced LEU hexafluoride into oxide form. There are legitimate questions about whether Iran can produce all the requisite LEU oxide.”

“According to the latest IAEA report, Iran has just started to process newly produced 3.5 percent LEU into a final oxide form. The reason for the delay in making LEU dioxide is unknown. During the negotiations, Iranians blamed the delay on the West, stating that valves used in the last section of the plant dedicated to converting ammonium diuranate (ADU) to uranium dioxide had been sabotaged. When it was asked who would have an interest in sabotaging a LEU uranium conversion plant, the Iranians said that the valves were procured for a different, unidentified plant. But is Iran's story true? Iran clearly has had to buy many valves from abroad, and illegally in many cases. Moreover, several illegally gained goods have no doubt been sabotaged by suppliers, as is legitimate when dealing with criminals' contraband, or in this case Iranian or Iranian-recruited dual-use goods traffickers. So, sabotage is possible. On the other hand, sabotaging goods is not common and not easy to accomplish in practice. Iran may be willing to overplay the sabotage card as it seeks to explain its shortcomings under its JPA obligations.”


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