DUBAI, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Iran has stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, one of the key demands of world powers in talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, a senior Iranian parliamentarian was quoted as saying.
There was no immediate comment from the U.N. nuclear agency in Vienna which regularly inspects Iranian nuclear sites and would likely be aware of any production halt. One diplomat in Vienna also said he was not aware of any halt to production.
Any such move would come as a major surprise, as Western experts believe Iran would want to use its higher-grade enrichment as a bargaining chip to win relief from crippling sanctions. Iranian MPs have in the past made statements about Iran’s nuclear programme that were later denied by the government.
Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a senior member of Iran’s parliamentary national security commission, also said Tehran had only stopped enriching uranium to levels above the 5 percent needed for civilian power stations because it already had all the 20-percent enriched fuel it needs for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
“Enrichment over five percent depends on the needs of the country; Iran’s nuclear industry requires 20-percent enrichment for providing the fuel for its Tehran reactor, but this site has its required fuel at the moment and there is no need for further production,” the parliament’s website quoted Hosseini as saying late on Tuesday.
“Tehran will decide whether to have over 5-percent enrichment or not itself, but the issue of suspension or halt of enrichment activities is meaningless because no production is taking place at the moment,” he said.
Western officials have said they need Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, increase the transparency of its nuclear programme, reduce its uranium stockpiles and take other steps to assure the world it does not want nuclear weapons.
While members of parliament’s national security commission are likely to be briefed on the nuclear programme, they are not directly involved in policy making. The big decisions are made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran and six world powers - the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany - emerged from a fresh round of talks in Geneva last week over Tehran’s nuclear activities saying they had been positive and constructive.
The talks were the first since relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani came to office in August promising to try to resolve the nuclear dispute and win an easing of stringent international sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy.
Follow-up talks will be held in Geneva on Nov. 7-8.
Tehran denies allegations by Western powers that it is seeking the capability to produce nuclear arms.
After enriching uranium to levels of 20 percent, it is a relative short technical step to increase that to the 90 percent needed for making a nuclear warhead.