US changes tune on Iranian nukes

The Obama administration might let Tehran enrich uranium to 5% if it guarantees international oversight

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A worker outside the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
A worker outside the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

Obama administration officials said they might let Iran keep part of its disputed nuclear program if Tehran were to restrict its ability to develop a nuclear weapon, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday.

US government officials said that if the Iranian government agrees to unrestricted inspections and strict oversight, Iran could continue enriching uranium to 5% purity, the upper limit for non-military nuclear uses.

A senior Obama administration official told the Los Angeles Times that if Iran fulfills monitoring and safeguard requirements set by the UN and world powers, “there can be a discussion” of allowing non-military enrichment, “and maybe we can get there, potentially.”

He emphasized the fact that Iran’s past refusal to meet international requirements makes the likelihood of such an arrangement unlikely.

Both the US and Iran have hinted at a reevaluation of their positions on the Iranian nuclear issue ahead of a second round of negotiations scheduled for May 13. Earlier this week, Al Arabiya reported that members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps urged Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to consider halting uranium enrichment at 20%.

The Obama administration’s discussion of a softening of stance will likely prompt vociferous objections from Israeli leaders and Republican politicians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak reject the possibility of any Iranian nuclear program and have stated that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-capable Iran.

Iran has produced approximately 100 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium for what it claims are peaceful purposes, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has purified almost 6 tons at 5% or below. Weaponized uranium is 90% enriched or more.

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