Iran reportedly slowing some nuclear enrichment, diluting high-grade stockpile

Wall Street Journal says Tehran has watered down some material enriched to 60%

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, visits an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements, at his office compound in Tehran, Iran, June 11, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, visits an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements, at his office compound in Tehran, Iran, June 11, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Via AP)

Officials believe that Iran has slowed its enrichment of nearly weapons-grade uranium and reduced a small amount of its stockpile, according to a report Friday.

The claimed slowdown, detailed by The Wall Street Journal, came a day after Tehran said it had reached a tentative agreement with Washington that will eventually see five detained Americans in Iran and an unknown number of Iranians imprisoned in the US released from custody. The deal also includes billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets being transferred from banks in South Korea to Qatar.

According to the report, relying on “people briefed on the matter,” Iran recently diluted a small part of its stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium, and can choose to dilute more as the stockpile grows, but may also choose not to.

Its stockpile of 60% enriched uranium has grown since the last report by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in May, but at a slower rate than the nine kilograms of material it added between February and May this year, the report claimed.

In its last report, the IAEA estimated that as of May 13, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was at 4,744.5 kilograms (10,460 pounds). Of that, 114.1 kilograms (251 pounds) was enriched up to 60% purity. A new report is expected sometime in the next two months

The 2015 Iranian nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67% — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant, but Iran has been producing uranium enriched to 60% purity — a level for which nonproliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use, and which is just a short technical jump from weapons-grade material.

According to the report, even after diluting some of its stockpile, Iran still has enough material for two nuclear weapons, though experts believe it has not decided to attempt to build a bomb.

In this photo released Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, by Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the Guard’s speedboats participate during a drill in the Persian Gulf. (Sepahnews via AP)

The US and Iran have reportedly been engaged in talks aimed at what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly called a “mini-deal, not a deal” in June.

The agreement would reportedly see Tehran pledge not to enrich uranium beyond 60% purity, cooperate with nuclear inspectors from the IAEA, stop its proxy terror groups from attacking US contractors in Iraq and Syria, avoid providing Russia with ballistic missiles and release three American-Iranians held in the Islamic Republic.

In return, Washington would promise not to tighten its existing economic sanctions, unfreeze billions in Iranian assets held abroad alongside assurances that the money will only be used for humanitarian purposes, and not pursue punitive resolutions against the Islamic Republic at the United Nations or at the IAEA, The New York Times reported then.

Netanyahu has reportedly said Israel could live with such an agreement, despite him being vociferously opposed to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which offered sanctions relief for enrichment curbs.

A US MH-60 Seahawk helicopter flies over Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz on December 21, 2018. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

After the five American being held were moved to house arrest Friday, Iranian officials at the United Nations told The Associated Press that the prisoner transfer marked “a significant initial step” in the implementation of the agreement, which is still being negotiated and could eventually lead to their full release.

Iran acknowledged that the deal involves $6 billion to $7 billion that were frozen as a result of sanctions. Iranian officials said the money would be transferred to Qatar before being sent on to Iran if the agreement goes through.

There was no indication that nuclear enrichment limits were part of the prisoner agreement.

The final transfer of the money — and the release of the five detainees — is expected in the next month or so due to the complicated nature of the financial transactions, officials said.

Screen capture from undated video showing a test launch of Iran’s Kheibar ballistic missile. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The deal unfolded amid a major American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, with the possibility of US troops boarding and guarding commercial ships in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of all oil shipments pass.

It comes a year after indirect talks aimed at reenergizing the 2015 nuclear deal collapsed, with the US saying the negotiations were no longer a top priority.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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