VIENNA (AP) — Iran has slowed its enrichment of uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels, a report by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog seen by The Associated Press said Monday.
The confidential report comes as Iran and the United States are negotiating a prisoner swap and the release of billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korea. Slowing its enrichment of uranium could serve as another sign that Tehran seeks to lower tensions between it and America after years of tensions since the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has 121.6 kilograms (268 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60%, a far-slower growth than in previous counts. An IAEA report in May put the stockpile of 60% uranium at just over 114 kilograms (250 pounds). It had 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) in February.
Uranium enriched at 60% purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran has maintained its program is peaceful, but the IAEA’s director-general has warned Tehran has enough enriched uranium for “several” nuclear bombs if it chooses to build them.
Iran likely would still need months to build a weapon. U.S. intelligence agencies said in March that Tehran “is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device.”
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67% – enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 set in motion a series of attacks and escalations by Tehran over its program.
Iran has been producing uranium enriched to 60% purity — a level for which nonproliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use. Iran maintains, however, that its program is for peaceful purposes. The IAEA, the West and other countries say Iran had a secret military nuclear program it abandoned in 2003.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
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