Netanyahu: Iran can make atomic bomb

Israeli PM comments on IAEA report that Tehran halted its nuclear expansion

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Iran has the capacity of producing an atomic bomb; therefore, it does not need to expand its nuclear program further.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had said that Iran has not expanded its nuclear facilities in the last three months, noting that only four new uranium enrichment centrifuges were operating at Natanz reactor and no additional machines at the Fordo plant.

“I am not impressed with reports that we hear that Iran has not expanded its nuclear facilities and the reason for that is they don't need to. They've got enough facilities, enough centrifuges to develop and to complete the fissile material which is at the core of an atomic bomb,” Netanyahu said.

The IAEA said Iran has not installed any IR-2M centrifuges, which experts say could speed up the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium.

The IR-40 reactor at Arak is a particular concern for Western powers because it is built for the processing of plutonium, an alternative to uranium for a nuclear weapon.

“They haven't introduced uranium to any new centrifuges in the last three months. They have more or less frozen construction of the IR-40, major components are still missing,” a senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's activities in Iran told AFP.

“There is absolutely no technical reason for this (freeze),” the diplomat said. “This is clearly a choice,” he added.

The quarterly IAEA document was the first that included developments only since Rowhani took office on Aug. 3, prompting a diplomatic opening during which Iran and six major powers have made progress towards a possible nuclear deal.

Still below Israeli ‘red line’

The report also showed that Iran's stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium had risen by about 5 percent to 196 kg (431 pounds) since August, largely due to a temporary halt in converting the material into reactor fuel.

But the amount of uranium gas enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent still remained below the roughly 250 kg (550 pounds) needed for a bomb if processed further - an amount that Israel has indicated is a “red line” that could trigger military action, Reuters reported.

Iran's higher-grade enrichment is controversial as it is a relatively short technical step to ramp it up to the 90 percent required for making a nuclear warhead. Iran says it needs the material to fuel a medical research reactor.

Tehran denies Western and Israeli accusations that it is seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy. But its refusal so far to curb its nuclear program, or open it up to unfettered IAEA inspections, has drawn tough sanctions that have severely damaged the OPEC giant's oil-dependent economy.

Negotiations between Iran and six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - are scheduled to resume next week.

The powers want Iran to halt its most sensitive nuclear work and take other measures in exchange for limited sanctions relief as part of a confidence-building deal that would buy time for talks on a more far-reaching settlement.

(With AFP and Reuters)