For now, Iran cooling nuclear drive, officials say

Khamenei resolved to keep stockpile of enriched uranium below Israel’s ‘red line’ to avert crisis in election year, WSJ reports

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a public gathering in the northeastern city of Bojnurd, Iran, in October. (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a public gathering in the northeastern city of Bojnurd, Iran, in October. (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)

Iran has decided to curb its nuclear program to within the parameters laid down by Israel and the West, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing Israeli, American and European officials.

The decision was made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, apparently in an effort to prevent an international crisis for his country in the months leading up to its presidential elections, the report said.

The latest round of talks between Iran and world powers over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program concluded last month in Kazakhstan with little progress.

In the wake of the talks, Khamenei blasted the concessions offered by the West in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program, saying they were “minor and unimportant.”

In an apparent about-face, however, the Iranian supreme leader seems to have decided tonot push forward with the nuclear program at this time, and is instead doing the opposite, the report quoted the unnamed sources as saying.

Both Israeli and American officials have called 2013 a crucial year for Iran’s ongoing effort to obtain nuclear weapons capability, and the issue was key during US President Barack Obama’s meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel last month.

The report cited a December 2012 report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog to the effect that Iran was limiting its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium to under 250 kilograms, an amount which, if further enriched, is considered sufficient to assemble a nuclear weapon.

Two hundred and fifty kilograms of uranium enriched to that level is also the amount that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied would be a “red line” constituting a casus belli for Israel.

“Based on the latest IAEA report, Iran appears to be limiting its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium by converting a significant portion of it to oxide,” a senior US official working on Iran was quoted as saying. “But that could change at any moment.”

Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, also warned that, despite apparently cooling its enrichment program, Iran could quickly break out toward a nuclear weapon, leaving the West with little time to react.

“There is a good point to be made that Iran has accepted 250 kilograms as the red line, but they are doing this very cleverly,” Oren was quoted as saying.

But Tehran’s moves would allow it “to cross the red line clandestinely in a matter of weeks,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of military intelligence in the IDF, said last month at the Herzliya security conference that Iran has 170 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent and that it can produce uranium at that level of enrichment at a rate of 14 kilograms per month. However, he said that the regime “is careful not to cross red lines, as perceived by the international community.”

The regime’s primary goal, Kochavi added, the one which dictates all other considerations, is the preservation of the regime itself, and that, he indicated, demanded caution. Currently, he said, the regime is striving to close the gap on nuclear weapons technology and, significantly, pushing ahead with a plutonium reactor in Arak

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