An Israeli minister on Saturday said an Iranian announcement of progress in negotiations with Western powers over its disputed plutonium production facility in Arak was a ploy by Tehran to divert attention from the main issue of concern — that of its uranium enrichment program.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Channel 2 news that the thousands of Iranian centrifuges enriching uranium to a potential weapons-grade state were the heart of the problem with which the international community must contend.
If Iran were ever to develop nuclear weapons, Steinitz (Likud) said, “the first atomic bombs would come from the centrifuges, and not from the heavy water reactor [at Arak].”
Earlier Saturday Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the dispute with world powers over its unfinished Arak heavy water reactor had been “virtually resolved.”
The facility — whose remaining components Iran cannot commission or install under an interim agreement struck in November — is of international concern as it could theoretically give Tehran a second route to a nuclear bomb.
Salehi said Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers were now seeing eye to eye on the Arak reactor after Tehran offered to make certain changes.
“Our proposal (is) to redesign the Arak reactor and to reduce its plutonium production to one-fifth,” Salehi said in remarks posted in Arabic on the website of Iran’s Al-Alam television.
“It was welcomed by the P5+1… the issue is virtually resolved,” he added without elaborating.
Western governments have monitored the small research reactor with alarm in the past few years over concerns Tehran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from its spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility.
Salehi said a separate Iran-initiated proposal sought to allow the country to keep its current centrifuges.
“They will remain at the current number of 20,000 for four or five years,” he said. “After that, we will gradually increase them to reach a capacity of enriching 30 tons of uranium per year.”
The Islamic Republic has installed 20,000 centrifuges, but only about 9,000 of the machines, which enrich uranium by spinning it at supersonic speed, are active.
AFP contributed to this report.