In a statement published on the Iranian parliament’s website on Tuesday, the spokesman for its national security and foreign policy committee, Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, said there was currently no need to enrich uranium to a level of 20 percent.
“Enrichment over 5 percent depends on the needs of the country. Iran’s nuclear industry needs 20 percent enrichment to provide the fuel for its Tehran reactor, but the site has its required fuel at the moment and there is no need for further production,” he said.
Although Hosseini is not a government spokesman or a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, his comments have received great attention as they touch upon a sensitive issue regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.
The issue of the enrichment of some of Iran’s stockpile of uranium to contain 20 percent of the Uranium-235 isotope is a key point in negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the West.
While it is normally used as fuel for research reactors that convert it into isotopes used in various medical treatments, only a relatively small, technical step is needed to enrich it further to the level used for nuclear bombs.
A halt in Iran’s uranium enrichment to 20 percent would meet a main demand of the world powers negotiating with Tehran over its controversial nuclear program, and would be a possible step towards a final settlement.
However, Hosseini also emphasized that it is up to Tehran alone to decide whether to continue with enrichment at a level higher than 5 percent.
“The issue of a suspension or a halt [in enrichment] is meaningless at the current time, as there is actually no production of [enriched uranium at 20 percent],” he added.
Hosseini also said Tehran is ready to convert all its 20-percent-enriched uranium to fuel rods for its research reactor in Tehran, which he said would “remove concerns over its non-peaceful use.”
To date, Iran has been careful to ensure that a portion of its 20 percent enriched uranium has been converted into reactor fuel, making it much more difficult to enrich further, thus keeping its stockpile below the amount international observers say would be needed to construct a weapon.
Hosseini’s statements follow unconfirmed reports that during a recent round of talks between Iran and the world powers in Geneva, Iranian negotiators offered to halt 20 percent enrichment completely.
No other officials have so far confirmed or reacted to the comments by Hosseini, who is the most prominent parliamentarian to make such a statement to date.
The comments were made at a particularly sensitive time, as Iran and the group of states known as the P5+1—the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—prepare to hold another round of nuclear talks in Geneva on November 7–8.
Iran already expressed readiness to make some concessions on its nuclear program during the previous round of talks with the group, which ended on October 16.
According to Western diplomats, Tehran hinted it was ready to scale back sensitive atomic activities to secure urgent sanctions relief.
In other news, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will appear before the country’s parliament next week to present a report on the status of talks between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1.