TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has increased its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, a senior official said on Wednesday, showing it is pursuing the sensitive process even as major powers are trying to coax it back to nuclear talks.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested last week that talks between six powers and Iran, stalled for a year, could resume at a three-day session in Vienna in mid-November.
Iran welcomed the overture in principle but said it would want to know the exact nature of talks before they can start.
Iran’s atomic energy chief said it had not been officially informed of any detailed EU proposal and said enrichment, the key worry for countries which suspect Iran of trying to develop the means to make nuclear weapons -- was continuing apace.
“So far almost 30 kg of 20 percent fuel has been produced,” Ali Akbar Salehi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the student news agency ISNA. “They have not informed us of an official date (for talks). It has just been a media announcement.”
Iran, which says it is refining uranium only for an eventual network of civilian nuclear power plants, announced it was refining uranium to 20 percent fissile purity in February, up from 3.5 percent previously.
It says the process is needed to power a medical research reactor. Western critics say Iran lacks the means to convert the 20 percent material into reactor fuel rods and is more likely advancing toward 90 percent enrichment suitable for bombs.
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report last month said Iran had produced 22 kg of 20 percent uranium.
Talks between Iran and the “P5+1” powers -- U.N. Security Council permanent members Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain, plus Germany -- seemed to make headway a year ago on the topic of a nuclear fuel swap but then stalled, leading to harsher international sanctions against Iran.
Abolfazl Zohrevan, deputy secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said on Monday that talks could resume “as soon as tomorrow” if the subject of the negotiations is made clear.
Iran has said it is willing to suspend its high-level enrichment if it is guaranteed a supply of fuel for its medical reactor, but it insists it has a sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology including an enrichment program.
Washington, Iran’s foe since the 1979 Islamic revolution, has led a global push for tougher sanctions on Iran which have been tightened since June, in an effort to force Tehran to curb its enrichment activities.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Mark Heinrich