September 24, 2023

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Iran Slows Near Bomb-Grade Uranium Production in Diplomatic Nod

(Bloomberg) — Iran slowed production of uranium enriched close to the level needed for nuclear weapons, in the latest signal the Islamic Republic may be ready to re-enter talks about the scope of its atomic program.

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International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors told diplomats Monday that Iran’s stockpile of highly-enriched uranium grew just 7% in the last three months compared with a 30% increase in the previous quarter. It’s the most dramatic slowdown since the country began purifying the heavy metal to higher grades in 2021.

Iran paused previously-announced efforts to reconfigure centrifuges enriching to 60% and verified that installation of new machines “had yet to begin,” read the 12-page restricted report seen by Bloomberg.

The IAEA report follows statements from Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian indicating that the Persian Gulf nation is willing to discuss potential limitations on its nuclear work with world powers.

Expectations that Iran would moderate its uranium enrichment had been mounting following months of secret diplomacy between Tehran and Washington. While avoiding the political pressures associated with a formal deal, the efforts have nevertheless led to an understanding to free American prisoners held by Iran and release billions of dollars in Iranian funds frozen by the US and stranded overseas.

Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% levels of purity rose to 121.6 kilograms (268.1 pounds) compared with 114.1 kilograms in June. Inventories of 20%-enriched fuel grew to 535.8 from 470.9 kilograms.

Iran began enriching to 60% in retaliation for a 2021 attack on its largest nuclear fuel plant in Natanz, which it blamed on Israel. While that purity is still below the 90% grade typically used for weapons, it’s much higher than the 300 kilograms at 3.67% purity cap set by the now-defunct nuclear accord the country agreed to with world powers in 2015.

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