Iran may announce its willingness to halt uranium enrichment at 20 percent when it meets with world powers at the Baghdad summit on May 23, the Dubai-based Al Arabiya website reported on Tuesday, quoting a source in Tehran.
Senior members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRG) have entreated Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to halt uranium enrichment at the 20% level, the report said. They are said to be concerned that international sanctions are placing an increasing strain on the IRG’s finances and, consequently, its capacity to implement large-scale economic projects.
The IRG, which is involved in major infrastructure work in Iran, advised a policy of appeasement and rapprochement with Western powers to reduce financial pressure, the report said.
By contrast, the article went on, some senior government hardliners still back continued uranium enrichment beyond the 20% level, and believe Iran’s oil revenues can offset the impact of sanctions on the various projects.
Uranium enriched to 20% is sufficient to operate a research reactor; 90% enrichment is necessary for weaponized uranium. While the stance of world powers on enrichment is unclear, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Iranian enrichment of uranium even to 20% is unacceptable. Analysts note that the process of enrichment from 20% to 90% is far less arduous than the initial enrichment to lower levels.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry, for its part, maintained a defiant tone Tuesday against Western pressure to halt the development of fissile material.
Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast warned that “any kind of sanctions on Iran will be considered as a negative step taken by the West… which could affect the Baghdad negotiations.”
He said sanctions would only prompt an accelerated pace of progress in Iran’s nuclear program.
The Al Arabiya report came less than two weeks after the Istanbul summit between Iran and the permanent Security Council members and Germany (P5+1), which was deemed a success by both sides.
Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is wrapping up a visit to Tehran, is also expected to encourage Iran to suspend uranium enrichment in order to ensure the success of the upcoming Baghdad talks.