New Report Shows Iran Expanding Enrichment At Underground Nuclear Facility

A new report released on Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency declares that while Iran’s nuclear program has moved forward, the motion is incremental in nature. The report comes as speculation continues to grow about whether the U.S. and Iran will engage in direct talks.

While the number of centrifuges installed at the Fordow nuclear site, buried into the side of a mountain, has increased, the number that are operational has stayed the same. Likewise, the amount of uranium that has been enriched to a 20 percent level has actually decreased since the August 2012 report. This is due to a large amount of material being converted, or slated for conversion, to be used in reactor fuel plates. While not impossible to transform this material back into uranium for further enrichment, it greatly complicates the process.

In terms of the nature of Iran’s program, the full report notes that since August there has no new ability of the IAEA to completely verify Iran’s work due to there being “no agreement on a structured approach to resolving outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and no agreement by Iran to the Agency’s request for access to the Parchin site.”

Iran experts, like Jamal Abdi, the policy director at the National Iranian American Council, say the report offers “no surprises” and that it’s clear that Iran is continuing “to modestly increase its bargaining position but hasn’t made any dramatic escalatory moves like installing advanced machines or enriching above medium grade.” Abdi told ThinkProgress that the “same number of centrifuges are spinning at Fordow, and Iran’s medium enriched uranium quantities are still well below the amount required for a weapon.” Others, like Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program, come to a similar conclusion. Fitzpatrick tweeted that the report “shows Iran continues to make incremental advances, but almost as if calibrating progress so as not to spark a crisis.” He also tweeted that the report shows that Iran “has 10% more enriched uranium and 10% more centrifuges than 3 months ago. The rial dropped 40%, so this time sanctions are winning.”

To some, like Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, the report indicates that, “Iran has crafted its nuclear posture to gain leverage at likely upcoming talks.” Kupchan said to ThinkProgress that “Iran could quickly increase production of dangerous medium enriched uranium -– but has for now chosen not to.” He added that “in effect, Iran has pointed a loaded diplomatic gun at the West, hoping that it will see the most attractive offer possible from the U.S. and its partners.”

The Obama administration has enforced sanctions against Iran with the goal of inducing a diplomatic solution. Thus far, sanctions have had an impact: Iran has lost $48 billion in oil reserves because of them. What’s more, last month the Congressional Research Service reported that, “many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions.” Indeed, influential Iranian officials have recently said that diplomacy with the U.S. is not “taboo.” Officials from the U.S. and Israel believe Iran has not yet decided on whether to build a nuclear weapon.