Iran has amassed more than two tons of enriched uranium, the UN atomic agency said on Monday in a report that heightened Western concerns about the country developing the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.
Two tons of uranium would be enough for two nuclear warheads, although Iran says it does not want weapons and is only pursuing civilian nuclear energy.
The US and the four other permanent UN Security Council members - Russia, China, Britain and France - have tentatively backed a draft fourth set of UN sanctions against Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium.
For seven months, Iran refused to accept a deal brokered by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that foresaw Iran exporting 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for Tehran's research reactor.
The West backed that offer because it would have committed Iran to exporting most of the enriched uranium it had produced and left it with less than the 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of material needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb. Iran rejected the offer then but now says it is ready to ship out the same amount of materal and has enlisted the backing of Turkey and Brazil in trying to reach a compromise and derail the new sanctions push.
The restricted International Atomic Energy Agency report dmade available to The Associated Press shortly after release Monday said Iran had now enriched 2,427 kilograms to just over three percent level.
That means shipping out 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms) now would still leave Iran with more than enough material to make a nuclear weapon. That makes the deal unattractive to the U.S and its allies The report confirmed that Iran continues a separate program of small-scale enrichment of uranium, using 3.5 percent feedstock and enriching to near 20 percent - another hurdle for the West. Iran could produce weapons grade uranium much more quickly from the 20 percent level, making the separate program another hurdle to any fuel swap deal.
The US and its allies view Tehran's insistence on continuing higher enrichment even as it offers to accept the swap deal with suspicion since it originally said it had to enrich to 20 percent as the first step in making fuel for the Tehran research reactor.