Iran Ready to Stop 20-percent Enrichment, Says Russian FM

Sergey Lavrov says 'for the first time in many years' there are encouraging signs in international efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute.

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Russia's foreign minister says Iran is willing to halt its 20 percent enrichment of uranium, which has been a key concession sought in international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

That is the highest level of enrichment acknowledged by Iran and one that experts say could be turned into warhead grade in a matter of months.

In an interview with the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that was released by the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, Sergey Lavrov said that "for the first time in many years" there are encouraging signs in international efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute.

He said Iran has confirmed that it is ready to halt production of uranium-enriched to 20 percent. He did not give details, but said the sextet of international negotiators should make "substantial reciprocal steps."

Meanwhile, on Monday the U.N. nuclear agency chief said Iran is making "steady progress" in expanding its nuclear program and international sanctions do not seem to be slowing it down.

Yukiya Amano's comments underlined the difficult challenges facing world powers in seeking to persuade the Islamic state to scale back nuclear activities they suspect could be used to make atomic bombs, a charge Tehran denies.

The surprise victory of moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani in Iran's presidential election last Friday has raised hopes for an easing of tension in the decade-old nuclear dispute.

Rowhani pledged on Monday to be more transparent about Tehran's atomic work in order to see sanctions lifted but he also said Iran was not ready to suspend its enrichment of uranium.

Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he remained committed to dialogue with Iran to address the IAEA's concerns about what it calls the possible military dimensions to the country's nuclear program.

But no new meeting has yet been set after 10 rounds of talks since early 2012 failed to make progress in reviving a stalled investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Iran.

"There is a steady increase of capacity and production [in Iran's nuclear program]," Amano said in an interview.

Asked if international punitive steps aimed at making Iran curb its atomic activity were slowing it down, he said: "I don't think so ... I don't see any impact."

Iran, a big oil producer now under harsh Western sanctions against its lifeblood export sector, says its nuclear program aims to meet the electricity needs of a growing population.

The Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.Credit: Reuters

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