Iran digs in on underground nuke facility

In a setback to Iran nuclear talks, Tehran is again rejecting US demands it re-purpose an underground uranium enrichment site after what it says are Israeli threats from the air to another enrichment plant, diplomats told The Associated Press today.

PTI| Updated: Sep 23, 2014, 01:12 AM IST

United Nations: In a setback to Iran nuclear talks, Tehran is again rejecting US demands it re-purpose an underground uranium enrichment site after what it says are Israeli threats from the air to another enrichment plant, diplomats told The Associated Press today.

The US wants the site near the city of Fordo, southwest of Tehran, shut down or converted to a purpose other than uranium enrichment because the plant is dug deep into a mountain.

Because of that, Washington, and Iran's arch-foe Israel, fears the fortified plant is impervious to an air attack.

Centrifuges enriching uranium can churn out material ranging from low-level reactor fuel to the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

What to do with the Fordo plant has been a central point of months of negotiations between Iran, the US and five other world powers aimed at reducing Iran's ability to make an atomic weapon in exchange for an end to crippling economic sanctions.

Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and was reportedly engaging on US proposals on reconfiguring the site at previous negotiating rounds.

But that has changed at the most recent session, which began Friday, said two diplomats, who demanded anonymity because their information is confidential.

They said Tehran now is invoking the case of what they say was an Israel drone they shot down last month near their main enrichment site at Natanz in arguing that they need to leave Fordo as an enrichment plant because of the vulnerability of the Natanz plant, south of Tehran.

Iranian state television aired footage of the purported drone Aug 25 and identified it as a Hermes 450 drone, which is manufactured in Israel. Israel has not commented.

Tehran is also pushing members of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to condemn Israel over the alleged incident at the IAEA's general assembly this week.

Washington's main aim at the talks is to place strict constraints on the size and output of Iran's uranium enrichment program, and diplomats told the AP last week that it was trying a new approach in attempts to erode Tehran's resistance.

They said a new US proposal on the table focuses on removing piping connecting the centrifuges. That would allow the US leeway on modifying demands that Iran cut the number of centrifuge machines from 19,000 to no more than 1,500.

The initiative would allow the Iranians to claim that they did not compromise on vows that they would never emasculate their enrichment capabilities, while keeping intact American demands that the program be downgraded to a point where it could not be quickly turned to making bombs.