Iran will go on refining uranium “with intensity” and the number of enrichment centrifuges it has operating will rise substantially in the current year, the country’s nuclear energy chief was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
The comments by Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, signaled continued defiance in the face of international demands that Tehran halt enrichment to the higher 20 percent fissile purity level, close down its Fordow enrichment plant, and ship out its stockpile of the material.
But he also said Iran would continue and possibly raise its output of reactor fuel using 20 percent enriched uranium – which suggests that less of it might be available for use in what the West suspects is an attempt to develop atom bombs.
Iran says it needs 20 percent refined uranium – as opposed to the lower-grade enrichment to 3.5 percent level needed for nuclear power plants – to turn into fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
It says its nuclear program has purely peaceful purposes.
Diplomacy between Iran and the world powers – the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain – has been deadlocked since a June meeting that ended without breakthrough.
Both sides now say they want to resume talks soon, after this month’s re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Diplomats expect a new meeting in Istanbul later this year or in January. One diplomatic source said the powers would propose the first half of December but that the following month was more likely.
“We all recognize that there is a window of opportunity and that window is not very big and it is not going to be open for very long,” another diplomat said. “The hope is that there will be a meeting (between the powers and Iran) in the near future.”
Iran has faced a tightening of Western trade sanctions in the past two years, with the United States and its allies hoping the measures will force Iran to curb its nuclear program.