Monday, December 18, 2017

Iran has finished work on nuclear site, IAEA says

WASHINGTON — Iran has finished installing all the critical equipment at a deep underground site where it is producing nuclear fuel that could quickly be converted to use in a nuclear weapon, international inspectors reported Friday. But they said Iran has yet to ramp up production, leaving several months for President Barack Obama and his allies to work on a diplomatic solution that could avoid a military confrontation.

The report, by the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said that satellite photographs show Iran has worked for months to alter another site that the agency has long suspected may have been used for weapons-related experiments. Inspectors have been barred, and the agency said it fears that the movement of earth and removal of equipment has been so widespread that its ability to "conduct effective verification will have been seriously undermined."

The report, which is updated and circulated quarterly to the agency's board, was published two days after Obama told reporters at a news conference in Washington that he would try to engage Iran in new negotiations, which went nowhere in his first term.

Administration officials and diplomats said they believe, based on the IAEA reports and other intelligence, that it will be at least spring before Iran has amassed enough medium-enriched uranium to make a single weapon. That is the latest "red line" that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn, suggesting that at that point Israel might be forced to take military action.

The inspectors found that, as intelligence officials and diplomats reported several weeks ago, the deep underground site called Fordow is virtually complete. It is filled with 2,784 centrifuges, the maximum number it was designed to hold. But only 696 of the centrifuges are actually enriching uranium, while another 696 are very close to that stage.

However, U.S. intelligence officials are sticking to their conclusion that Iran has not made a "political decision" to produce a weapon, but may want to keep the option open.

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