U.S. Envoy Says Iran Has Nearly Enough Low-Enriched Uranium for a Nuclear Weapon

By Glenn Kessler and Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Iran "is now either very near or in possession" of enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, a senior U.S. diplomat said Wednesday, as he offered some of the toughest remarks by an Obama administration official on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Glyn Davies, Washington's chief envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the assertion in his inaugural speech to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog on the same day that Iran offered a counterproposal to end the impasse over its nuclear program.

The Iranian proposal, which remains confidential, was delivered to diplomats in Tehran, but initial reactions were of disappointment. "We made a substantive offer, but we didn't get something back that was responsive," said one Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because an official comment was still being prepared. "What we got was a request for a holistic conversation."

In his speech, Davies said, "We have serious concerns that Iran is deliberately attempting, at a minimum, to preserve a nuclear weapons option."

Iran would need to enrich the stockpile of uranium to weapons-grade level to produce a bomb, but Davies said the country's ongoing enrichment activity -- in defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions -- "moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity."

Davies reiterated the Obama administration's interest in a diplomatic resolution to the impasse and in direct negotiations with Iran without preconditions.

The five permanent members of the Security Council -- United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- and Germany this year reiterated an offer to provide economic and security benefits to Iran in exchange for international oversight and suspension of its enrichment activity. The group, known by the moniker P5-plus-one, has unsuccessfully sought to negotiate a solution with Iran since 2006.

The United States and other major powers said in July that they would "take stock" of Iran's response to the latest offer during the annual debate of the U.N. General Assembly this month. Washington has warned that it will push for "crippling sanctions" against Iran if little progress is made by year's end.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested Monday that his country would not suspend uranium enrichment but was willing to negotiate with the other parties on a range of international issues.

On Wednesday, Iranian state television showed Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki meeting envoys of the six nations; Switzerland represented the United States because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. State television showed images of the representatives reading the new Iranian proposal, and U.S. and European officials later confirmed receiving a document from Iran.

"We have received a proposal," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "We're now reviewing it seriously and carefully. We plan to confer with our partners in the P5-plus-one group, and I expect that we'll have more to say about it in the coming days."

Kelly said the United States was trying to determine whether the Iranians had made a serious effort to engage with the P5-plus-one and how "they address these long-standing concerns of the international community about Iran's failure to comply with its nonproliferation treaty, IAEA and Security Council obligations."

The contents of the proposal have not been made public. After the news report, Iranian state television interviewed an expert, who said the proposal did not deal with the nuclear program because Ahmadinejad had declared this week that the issue was "closed."

"Iran wants justice and respect for rights of nations in international relations," Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the country's nuclear negotiator, said Wednesday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "The era is over for a few countries . . . to dictate their stances to other countries," he said.

Iran offered no official response to the U.S. accusation that the country has nearly enough low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, but Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the agency that it "should be recalled that the agency has been faced with continuous false and forged allegations" by the United States.

Erdbrink reported from Tehran.

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