The talks of the five world powers and Germany (P5+1) and Iran will resume on October 19. One surprising result of the October 1 talks for the public was that Iran would probably be willing of letting Russia further enrich its low enriched uranium (LEU) from around 3.5-4% to 19.75%. Enrichment to this concentration is necessary for producing isotopes for medical purposes, specifically 99mTc, or technetium; this will be done in a small research reactor in Tehran (TRR). Most (if not all, as has been estimated by Geoffrey Forden at armscontrolwonk.com) of Iran’s stockpile of LEU would so get out of the country.
When US envoy Undersecretary of State William Burns briefed the White House on the talks, he revealed that Iran had contacted some time ago the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for solving its apparent problems. On the TRR, Burns explains:
“This is a research reactor which has been in operation in Tehran for decades, producing medical isotopes under strict IAEA safeguards. The last supply of fuel for this reactor, which is at roughly 19.75 percent LEU, was supplied by the Argentine government in the early 1990s and it’s going to run out in roughly the next year, year and a half.
Iran came to the IAEA a few months ago with the request to replace this supply. The IAEA consulted us and some others, some other members, and to make a long story short the United States and Russia joined together in a proposal to the IAEA which the IAEA subsequently conveyed as a response to the Iranians, to use Iran’s own LEU stockpile as the basis, as the feedstock for the reactor fuel that’s required.
This would then entail taking its LEU, which is enriched to about 3.5 percent, enriching it up to 19.75 percent in Russia, which the Russians have now publicly confirmed that they’re prepared to do, and then fabricating that into fuel assemblies which can be used at this safeguarded reactor, and the French have now confirmed their willingness to play that last role. Those are the basic details involved in the proposal. The potential advantage of this, if it’s implemented, is that it would significantly reduce Iran’s LEU stockpile which itself is a source of anxiety in the Middle East and elsewhere.
During our talks today the Iranians agreed to accept this proposal in principle, and there’s to be a meeting in Vienna on the 18th of October, led by IAEA experts, to try to work out the details.”
According to Burns, the talks were direct and candid. He concludes that, “the significance of today was that Iran, having refused to talk about its nuclear program since July of 2008, engaged on that program today with the United States as a full participant. … [N]o one expected that one day would allow us to resolve international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but I think today was a first step in what is bound to be a difficult process.”
As the Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Ashgar Soltanieh admitted today in an interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk, Iran’s recently revealed second uranium enrichment site near Qom has been planned for contingency reasons after massive threats especially in 2007 by the Bush-Cheney administration and Israel to bomb the enrichment plant at Natanz which is safeguarded by IAEA. Even if one has to admit that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have never been transparent (which is hoped to change soon), this is only another example for counterproductive politics avoiding or even fearing diplomacy but rather go for war.