U.S., allies denounce Iran's decision to make higher grade of enriched uranium

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 6:57 PM

Iran came under renewed attack Wednesday for its decision to make a higher grade of enriched uranium, a move that weapons experts say would dramatically shorten the country's path to nuclear weapons.

The United States and several European allies took turns denouncing Iran's behavior at a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, and a U.S. diplomat warned that new U.N. sanctions may be inevitable.

"Iran seems determined to defy, obfuscate and stymie," said Ambassador Glyn Davies, head of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

Davies was blunt about Iran's plans to increase the enrichment level for some of its uranium from less than 5 percent, suitable for nuclear power reactors, to nearly 20 percent, calling it an "an escalatory move, in blatant and direct violation" of U.N. resolutions. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying the higher-grade uranium would be used to fuel a reactor that makes medical isotopes.

An analysis released Wednesday concludes that the higher enrichment level would give Iran's rulers a bigger head start if they choose to go for a bomb. A stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium could be converted to a bomb's worth of weapons-grade fuel in about a month, the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security said.

Despite the diplomatic assault, the prospects for securing international support for tough sanctions against Iran remain uncertain. An attempt by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to win Brazil's backing appeared to fizzle Wednesday; after a meeting with Clinton in Brasilia, President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva told a news conference it was not wise "to push Iran into a corner."

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