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Iran claims it's almost doubled stockpile of enriched uranium with nuclear talks set to resume

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Tehran — Iran said it has almost doubled its stock of enriched uranium in less than a month, as it prepares to resume talks with world powers on curbing its nuclear program. Tehran has progressively abandoned its commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal since then U.S. president Donald Trump pulled Washington out in 2018, prompting Washington to impose fresh sanctions in response.

"We have more than 210 kilograms [about 463 pounds] of uranium enriched to 20%, and we've produced 25 kilos [about 55 pounds] at 60%, a level that no country apart from those with nuclear arms are able to produce," said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, quoted late Wednesday by state news agency IRNA.

In September, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had boosted its stocks of uranium enriched above the percentage allowed in the 2015 deal, 3.67%.

Iran Nuclear
A photo released on November 5, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, where the country has been enriching uranium to 60% purity, close to that required for weapons development. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AP

In May, the IAEA said its analysis of a sample taken from an Iranian facility in mid-April, "shows an enrichment level consistent with that declared by Iran." Iranian officials said in April that they'd taken the significant step toward obtaining weapons-grade uranium by enriching up to 60% purity.

While that isn't technically weapons-grade (90% or above), having a stockpile of 60% enriched reduces the time Iran would need to make a bomb. That's something Tehran vehemently insists it doesn't want to do, maintaining that its nuclear program is for entirely peaceful, civilian purposes. The United States, Israel and other allied nations don't believe that.

On October 10, AEOI head Mohammad Eslami said his country had produced more than 120 kilos of 20% enriched uranium, in theory allowing the manufacture of medical isotopes used mainly in diagnosing certain cancers.

The 2015 deal with Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and the United States offered Iran some sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program. Nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers are to resume on November 29.

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While the IAEA report from the spring and the new claim by Tehran do not mark significant deviations from what Iran has stated publicly that it would do in response to the U.S.'s 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear pact, CBS News' Pamela Falk said they do make it clear that if the international talks fail to bring a new agreement that includes a lifting of U.S. sanctions, Iran could easily move forward with developing nuclear weapons technology. 

Iran has been steadily increasing its violations of the restrictions imposed by the landmark 2015 deal since then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned earlier this year that unless the pace of Iran's nuclear agreement violations was checked, it could reduce the "breakout" time hypothetically needed for the country to make a nuclear weapon to "a matter of weeks."

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Speaking to CBS News' "Intelligence Matters" host Michael Morell this week, former senior CIA operations officer Norman Roule, the intelligence community's former senior officer on Iran, said it was currently "difficult to see how the nuclear agreement survives."    

He discussed a number of factors, including Iran's continued nuclear advances in violation of the deal, its continued support of malign groups in the wider region, and the "deeply fragmented" international stance on Tehran's actions as reasons to hope for little progress in the political dialogue.

"Russia and China are not on board with pressure against Iran, and diplomacy lacks any coercive element at present," Roule told Morell. "So, this is a very good time for Iran to seek additional concessions, and long-term concessions, from the West for a nuclear deal."

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