Nuclear chief says Iran will keep enriching to 20%

Ali Akbar Salehi says process continues as officials deny Western reports that Tehran agreed to stop

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Iran is continuing to enrich 20% grade uranium and will keep doing so, Iran’s nuclear chief said Wednesday, amid two-track talks between Tehran and the West over its nuclear program..

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the Tehran parliament’s news site Wednesday that “the 20% uranium and fuel plates are being produced and built within the country,” the state-run Fars news agency reported.

“No stop has occurred in the process of the production and it never stopped before,” he continued.

Stopping the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent is thought to be one of the key demands by six world powers in ongoing negotiations with Iran over curbing its rogue nuclear program.

An Iranian lawmaker said last week that Iran had ceased enriching uranium to 20 percent, but that report was subsequently denied by another Iranian politician.

Jerusalem, which has called for Iran to be forced to halt all enrichment because it said Iran could break out to the bomb even with lower levels, has called the talk over 20% “irrelevant.”

On Tuesday, Iran and the IAEA issued a joint statement after a round of technical talks in Geneva saying they had planned to meet again and touting the “substantive” negotiations, which they said they would continue in November.

An October 17 report in Al-Monitor quoted an Iranian source with purported knowledge of the two-day talks between his country and the P5+1 who claimed that Iran offered to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, and to convert the country’s current stockpile into fuel rods, in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif denied the reports.

Another senior Iranian politician, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the parliament’s foreign policy and national security committee, told members of the engineers’ association that uranium enrichment is a “red line” in nuclear negotiations, adding that the suspension of enrichment in the past by Iran’s reformist government will never repeat itself.

Iran currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges which have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads. Tehran also has nearly 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of 20 percent-enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead

Among key concessions wanted by the West, according to two diplomats who spoke with The Associated Press, is that Iran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent. The diplomats say Iran offered to halt 20 percent enrichment at talks in Geneva. However, the Iranian government hasn’t publicly commented on that.

Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Association, said Monday that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build an atomic weapon within two weeks and had, “in a certain way,” already reached the point of no return in its nuclear program.

P5+1 talks with Iran are scheduled for November 7-8 in Geneva.

The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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