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Iran promise to send nuclear fuel abroad: A major concession?

The real test, caution some, is whether Iran follows through on the tentative nuclear deal that would effectively prevent Tehran from developing a bomb.

By Staff writer / October 2, 2009

Thursday's meeting in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program had been framed in such a way that as long as it didn't deteriorate into name-calling and threats it would have been considered a "success." Iran, for its part, had insisted that it wouldn't talk about its own nuclear program ahead of the talks, and hinted instead it was far more interested in regional nuclear disarmament, seeking to put the focus on Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

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But the meeting produced results that far exceeded the low, low expectations that the US and its negotiating partners – Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany – had set for the event: Iran promised to send most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad.

Iran's current stockpile of LEU is about 3,200 pounds – more than enough, in theory, to be converted into sufficient highly enriched uranium to produce one nuclear bomb. That fact was disclosed earlier this year, creating concerns among the US and other governments that Iran's nuclear program – which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes only – was moving ever closer to nuclear-weapon production.

But in what some commentators are calling a vindication of President Barack Obama's willingness to engage directly with Iran, the country promised at the end of the meeting to send "most" of its existing stockpile of LEU – reportedly about 2,600 pounds of the 3,200-pound total – for processing abroad, according to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The fuel would be enriched further in Russia, sent on to France for further technical modifications and then be returned to Iran enriched to a level sufficient to help run its small reactor for producing medical isotopes but well below the level required to make a nuclear bomb.

Iran has agreed 'in principle'
The agreement for now is "in principle" and there are no guarantees that Iran will follow through. But if it does, it will mark the first significant step in at least a decade that the country will have taken away from the capacity to make a bomb. On the US side, the demand that Iran give up its enrichment program entirely before progress can be made appears to have been shelved.

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