Iran's nuclear program becomes more radioactive

Dennis Ross
Former diplomat and Obama administration special advisor Dennis Ross speaks to CBS News about Iran's nuclear program May 25, 2012.

(CBS News) There is new evidence that Iran has made significant progress toward its apparent goal of becoming a nuclear power. It turned up in the latest inspection by U.N. specialists.

The uranium enrichment facility dug into the side of a mountain is the ground zero of Iran's nuclear program and it just became more radioactive -- literally.

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency says inspectors found traces of uranium enriched to 27 percent -- closer to bomb-grade levels than anything Iran has produced before.

IAEA: Traces of higher enrichment at Iran site

Nuclear experts say it was probably just a mistake by technicians who intended to go only to 20 percent, but still evidence Iran is installing higher quality centrifuges capable of spinning uranium gas to higher levels of enrichment in less time.

In the last three months, Iran has installed 350 more centrifuges at the underground complex known as Fordow, bringing the total to more than 1,000, and adding fuel to the fire of suspicions held by many, including Dennis Ross -- once the Obama administration's point man on Iran.

Below, watch an extended clip of Dennis Ross speaking to David Martin about the Iranian program:


"It certainly creates an impression that the only thing that they're about is developing a nuclear weapons capability," Ross said in an interview with CBS News.

In talks this week in Baghdad, the U.S. and five other nations demanded Iran cease enriching uranium to the 20 percent level.

Iran in turn demanded a lifting of sanctions which are crippling its economy. The two sides could only agree to meet again next month -- a leisurely pace well short of what Ross says is needed.

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"An intensive character to the talks that gives you a reason to believe that these kinds of issues that are highly technical can be worked out in some sort of reasonable time frame," Ross said.

Although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta once thought Israel might strike as early as this spring, he and other U.S. officials now believe President Obama's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March convinced the Israelis to hold off.

"I think in fact that there is an understanding between the United States and Israel that diplomacy should be allowed to play out," Ross said.

There also seems to be an understanding that if diplomacy fails, the U.S. will join Israel in striking Iran.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.