June 14, 2015

USA: US State Dept Spokesman Marie Harf: We’re All ‘Totally Perplexed’ by NYT Story on Iran’s Increased Nuclear Stockpile

The Washington Free Beacon
written by Andrew Kugle
Tuesday June 2, 2015

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said she was “perplexed” by a New York Times story Tuesday on Iran’s 20 percent increase in nuclear fuel over the past 18 months.

The United States has been in negotiations with Iran for a final deal about their nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report on Friday that documented an increase of Iran’s nuclear fuel stockpile.

A reporter asked Harf if Iran’s increased stockpiles has complicated the current negotiations.

“Not at all. Our team read that story this morning and was quite frankly perplexed because the main contentions of it are totally inaccurate,” Harf said.

Harf explained why she felt that way.

“First, the notion in the story that western officials or U.S. officials involved were unaware of this issue or not understanding of what this entails is just absurd,” Harf said. “Under the JPOA (Joint Plan of Action), Iran can fluctuate its numbers in terms of their stockpile. They can go up and down as long as at the end of fixed date they are back down below a number.”

Iran’s increase in its nuclear stockpile during the negotiations goes against what White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during a White House briefing on March 2.

“So what we also know is that Iran has decided to engage in a set of serious negotiations, that previously Iran had just used diplomatic negotiations as cover to try to make progress on their nuclear program,” Earnest said. “But in the context of these talks, we’ve actually succeeded in not just halting Iran’s progress as it relates to their nuclear program but actually rolling it back in several key areas, including reducing and eliminating their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. So I think the evidence indicates that this sanctions regime has been effective.”

Harf said that this is not a concern because Iran agreed to reduce their stockpile when the agreement gets implemented.

“What matters is that they [Iran] have committed already, and we said publicly to reducing their stockpile whenever this implemented 300 kilograms,” Harf said. “The notion that this is some big issue of concern of negotiation is more manufacturing a controversy than actual reality. Everyone who read that story this morning was totally perplexed by it.”

The Institute for Science and International Security analyzed the question of whether Iran could meet its obligations regarding 5 percent low enriched uranium, and authors David Albright and Serene Kelleher-Vergantini assessed that “Iran has fallen behind in its pledge to convert its newly produced LEU hexafluoride into oxide form. There are legitimate questions about whether Iran can produce all the requisite LEU oxide … By the end of June, in order to meet its commitment under the JPA, Iran must finish converting the 2,720 kg of LEU into oxide and introduce into the EUPP and convert into oxide, 1,106 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride produced over the last several months (plus the few hundred kilograms of LEU to be produced in late May and June 2015). Thus, Iran has clearly fallen behind in its pledge under the JPA.”
The New York Times
written by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
Monday June 1, 2015

WASHINGTON — With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been “frozen” during that period.

But Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why. One possibility is that Iran has run into technical problems that have kept it from converting some of its enriched uranium into fuel rods for reactors, which would make the material essentially unusable for weapons. Another is that it is increasing its stockpile to give it an edge if the negotiations fail.

The extent to which Iran’s stockpile has increased was documented in a report issued Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations organization that monitors compliance with nuclear treaties. The agency’s inspectors, who have had almost daily access to most of Iran’s nuclear production facilities, reported finding no evidence that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon, and said Tehran had halted work on facilities that could have given it bomb-making capabilities.

The overall increase in Iran’s stockpile poses a major diplomatic and political challenge for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who flew back to the United States from Geneva on Monday for treatment of a broken leg he suffered in a bicycling accident, as they enter a 30-day push to try to complete an agreement by the end of June. In essence, the administration will have to convince Congress and America’s allies that Iran will shrink its stockpile by 96 percent in a matter of months after a deal is signed, even while it continues to produce new material and has demonstrated little success in reducing its current stockpile.

“From the U.S. perspective, it’s obviously less than ideal,” said Richard M. Nephew, an Iran specialist at Columbia University, who worked at the White House and State Department. Mr. Nephew said the enlarged stockpile was not a deal breaker because Iran could find a way of solving the problem, especially if it was offered sanctions relief.

A major element of the forthcoming deal, if it is completed, permits Iran to maintain a stockpile of only 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of nuclear fuel, less than would be needed to make a single weapon.

That means Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, would have to rid itself of more than nine tons of its stockpile in a matter of months. One easy solution would be to ship the fuel out of the country, but that is a politically fraught topic for the Iranians — and one that their deputy negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, ruled out in March.

“There is no question of sending the stocks abroad,” Mr. Araqchi said at the time. A State Department statement released a few days later that outlined the preliminary agreement reached at a marathon session in Lausanne, Switzerland, was silent on the question of how the reduction would be realized.

Administration officials said nothing publicly about the atomic energy agency’s report. But several officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Iranians understood that under a final agreement they would commit to giving up almost all of their fuel and maintaining a small stockpile for 15 years.

“How are they going to do it?” one senior American official said recently when asked about the negotiations, details of which Mr. Kerry and his team are trying to keep confidential. “We’re not certain. It’s their problem, not ours. But it’s a problem.”

Nonetheless, officials say they expect the radical reduction of Iran’s stockpile to happen in the opening months of any agreement, either by shipping it out of the country or changing it into a form that would make it impossible to re-enrich and use as a weapon.

Mr. Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Geneva on Saturday to discuss how the stockpile would be destroyed and other impediments to a final deal. Mr. Kerry was joined at the talks by Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, who will have to certify to Congress that the deal ensures that Iran will remain at least a year away from being able to produce a weapon’s worth of bomb fuel over the next decade, a complex calculation in which the size of Iran’s stockpile is a major factor.

Other elements of Iran’s program, however, have been frozen or rolled back. Construction has stopped on a major plutonium reactor, and it is undergoing a redesign to make it less threatening. And while Iran has installed about 20,000 centrifuges at its enrichment plants, roughly half are idle. Of the fuel that the United States worries about most — because it was enriched to a level a short step away from bomb-grade — half has been diluted, and the rest is being turned into reactor fuel.

There is little doubt that in the absence of the interim accord, called the “Joint Plan of Action,” Iran would have made even greater strides. But the numbers published Friday by the atomic energy agency show that Iran has continued to enrich uranium aggressively, even though it knew that it was not meeting its goals of converting its stockpile into reactor rods.

The question is: How much of the increased stockpile was done for political reasons, and how much is because adding to the stockpile has proved easier than eliminating it?

The 2013 plan for capping the stockpile relied on Iran’s stated plan to build a “conversion plant” at its sprawling nuclear complex at Isfahan. The plant was intended to turn newly enriched uranium into oxide powder, the first step toward making reactor fuel rods. In other words, while the stockpile would not be reduced, it also should not have grown.

As the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research group in Washington, said in February, “Iran has failed” to do the conversion. As a result, it added, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, compared with when the preliminary accord went into effect, was growing “significantly larger.”

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