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Iran Begins Converting Enriched Uranium Into Reactor Fuel


Iran on Tuesday confirmed beginning the process of converting some of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium into fuel for a research reactor in Teheran, ahead of the upcoming talks with UN's nuclear watchdog on the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program.

"Iran has sent a complete report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about its activities to convert the 20-percent uranium into fuel and the task is presently underway," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying at a press conference by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Stressing that Iran has been consistently requesting the Vienna-based IAEA to supply the required fuel for Tehran research reactor, the spokesman added: "However, when we received no positive response from the Agency, we started to meet our demands with the help of the Iranian experts."

When asked whether Iran would oblige to the long-standing IAEA demand for allowing its inspectors to visit the Parchin military facility located southeast of Tehran before any agreement emerges between the two sides, the spokesman said the issue would be discussed at the forthcoming talks in Teheran.

"Iran has repeatedly voiced its readiness to reach a comprehensive agreement with the IAEA which would recognize the former's nuclear rights based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," the IRNA quoted Mehmanparast as saying at the news conference.

IAEA officials are due to arrive in Teheran on Wednesday for talks related to Iran's disputed nuclear program. The last round of talks held between the two sides in Teheran last month had ended without any breakthrough.

The UN agency is particularly concerned about Teheran's refusal to allow its inspectors to visit the military facility in Parchin, which the West believes was used for explosives testing related to setting off a nuclear weapon.

Although Iran insists its nuclear work is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects the claim to be a cover-up for the country's nuclear weapon ambitions. Tehran argues that it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as it is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA.

Iran is already reeling under four rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over Teheran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Analysts believe that Russia and China, both Iranian allies, are unlikely to support further UN sanctions against Tehran over the issue.

Nonetheless, the United States and its allies have imposed separate sanctions on Iran, targeting the oil and banking sectors, after a report released by the IAEA in November cautioned that Tehran may be planning to develop nuclear weapons.

Its its November report, the IAEA noted that Iran had produced about 233 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, an increase of 43 kg since August. It was also revealed that Teheran used 96 kg of the uranium enriched to 20 percent for conversion into fuel for its medical research reactor in Tehran.

Notably, the usage of enriched uranium for civilian purposes contradicted western claims about Iran's desperate attempts to develop an atomic bomb, as it is very difficult and time consuming to convert used fuel rods into weapons-grade uranium.

The latest developments come just days ahead of the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, comprising the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan on February 26. The P5+1 nations had held three rounds of unsuccessful negotiations with Iran last year.

It is widely believed that Iran's continued participation in the talks is for convincing the P5+1 nations to lift their individual as well as UN sanctions currently imposed on Teheran. Experts say the Western sanctions are beginning to take an adverse effect on Iran's oil-based economy.

Incidentally, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei had rejected a US offer for one-on-one talks on Teheran's controversial nuclear program last week, stressing that such "negotiations for the sake of negotiations" would not resolve issues existing between the two nations.

Washington had severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Relations between the two nations deteriorated further over differences on Iran's disputed nuclear program. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran is currently looking after US interests in Iran.

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