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Analysts: Iran Sought Broad Uranium-Equipment Latitude Under Deal

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

An Iranian student passes a uranium-enrichment centrifuge on display in 2009 at a university north of Tehran. Analysts say Iran's negotiators sought broad latitude to replace weapon-relevant uranium equipment under a newly concluded understanding with world powers. An Iranian student passes a uranium-enrichment centrifuge on display in 2009 at a university north of Tehran. Analysts say Iran's negotiators sought broad latitude to replace weapon-relevant uranium equipment under a newly concluded understanding with world powers. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran pressed unsuccessfully for broad latitude to move bomb-useful uranium equipment under a newly concluded understanding with world powers, analysts say.

The nation sought the ability to determine when one of its operating uranium-enrichment centrifuges becomes "broken," insiders told the Institute for Science and International Security for a Monday report.

If six major governments had consented, Iran would have been able to relocate machines from its two internationally supervised refinement facilities into an unmonitored stockpile, even if they remained usable in some cases.

"The definition of 'broken' matters," ISIS analysts David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini wrote in their assessment.

Uranium-enrichment centrifuges are used for refining uranium for nuclear energy. When enriched to high purities, uranium could be used to fuel atomic weapons. U.N. monitoring of Iran's machines to ensure they are not being used for military purposes is seen as central to the interim atomic deal.

Iran reportedly pushed for a broad definition of the term "broken" in recent weeks, during negotiations with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany on how to implement a landmark nuclear accord reached in November. The sides agreed this week to bring the six-month deal into effect on Jan. 20.

During the implementation talks, Iranian negotiators also sought to flexibly interpret the November pact's call for any removed centrifuges to be replaced only by machines of "the same type," according to the ISIS analysts. Their suggestion of looser restrictions in this instance raised the possibility of Iran switching out its standard "IR-1" centrifuges for more advanced equipment, according to the report.

The "P-5+1" nations "resisted" both bids, the analysis says, citing an unnamed European-government insider. However, Albright told Global Security Newswire that he was unable to independently confirm this source's account of what took place.

The ISIS analysts learned of the Iranian push on uranium enrichment last month, from "officials involved in the talks," Albright told GSN by e-mail. He wrote that his sources in December had expressed "determination to thwart Iran's efforts and to plug loopholes in the interim deal."

Albright said the Obama administration's public statements this week suggest that the six world powers were successful in staving off the Iranian demands.

Speaking on background to reporters this week, a senior administration official said the as-yet unreleased implementation plan contains "limitations on production of centrifuges related to replacing broken centrifuges." However, the insider did not provide further details.

Even if the six world powers averted the potential "loopholes," Iran's demands highlight a need for the International Atomic Energy Agency to "carefully monitor the removal and installation of centrifuges at the Fordow and Natanz centrifuge sites to ensure that removed ones are indeed broken and that new ones are of the same type, namely identical IR-1 centrifuges," the ISIS experts wrote.

The November agreement contains measures aimed at temporarily suspending Iran's uranium-enrichment expansion. The United States and its partners hope a pause will help negotiators hammer out more enduring restrictions on Iranian activities that could contribute to a nuclear-weapon capability.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, but Washington and its allies have long feared that the Persian Gulf power could also enrich uranium at a secret facility never declared to international inspectors.

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