Washington, May 25 - Iran may be enriching uranium up to 27 percent purity at its underground facility, bringing the Islamic Republic another step closer to developing a nuclear weapon, officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency have told reporters.
The AP quoted diplomats who said that traces of the higher enrichmenthad been discovered at the Fordo plant. The higher quality enrichment, which Iran was not previously known to possess, means that Iran could significantly speed production to 90 percent, the level needed to make nuclear weapons.
Iran is known to have enriched to 20 percent largely at the Fordo site, which was constructed underground to defend against possible air attack. The plant was secret until western intelligence agencies exposed its existence in 2009.
The traces of 27 percent grade could possibly be the result of accidental over-enrichment, the diplomats cautioned. Iran has acknowledged enriching uranium to 20 percent.
The international community just concluded two days of talks in Baghdad with Iranian envoys in an effort to persuade them to halt that level of enrichment. The talks ended unsuccessfully though the parties agreed to meet again in Moscow next month. Israeli officials said the outcome buys Iran more time to continue its military efforts.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said that “significant differences remain” in negotiations between Iran and the six major powers that constitute the P5+1: Russia, China, France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S.
“The E3+3 remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program,” she said after talks concluded. “We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said all international sanctions would remain in place to keep the pressure on Iran. “As we lay the groundwork for these talks, we will keep up the pressure as part of our dual-track approach. All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move forward during this period,” she said.