TEHERAN — Iran announced Wednesday it has almost doubled its stockpile of uranium that the country began enriching to higher levels earlier this year in defiance of UN demands to halt the program.
Nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran now has 30 kilograms, or about 66 pounds, of uranium enriched to 20 percent — almost twice the amount reported in June.
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The 20 percent level is enough to produce fuel for a medical research reactor but far below the more than 90 percent enriched uranium required to build fissile material for nuclear warheads.
However, US officials have expressed concern Iran may be moving closer to the ability to reach weapons-grade level.
One country that is not too concerned with Iran's nuclear program is Turkey. On Wednesday Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan told reporters in Washington that he expects overall Turkish trade with Iran to increase, despite hesitations by Turkish banks due to US and EU sanctions.
Babacan said that the Turkish government has let Turkish banks make
their own decisions in the face of sanctions aimed at isolating Iran
from the global financial sector. The sanctions target individuals and
institutions deemed to be helping Iran develop its nuclear and missile
"Turkish banks are hesitating," he said. "Some of them are doing business with Iran, some are pausing to decide what to do."
said that the sanctions were hitting the Iranian economy but doubted
that they were making Iran rethink its nuclear program. Turkey has
opposed sanctions as ineffective and damaging to the Turkish economy,
since they target an important neighbor. Babacan stressed the importance
for Turkey of trade with Iran, specially in the energy sector. He
pointed out the volume of Turkish exports to Iran is about the same
level as exports to the United States.
Babacan expects that trade
with Iran, excluding oil and gas, will grow at a moderate pace. His
boss, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he would
like to triple trade volumes in the next five years while still
respecting the limits set by United Nations sanctions. That push, along
with Turkey's vote against sanctions in the U.N. Security Council has
fed tensions with the West.
But with a booming economy, Turkey
has growing energy needs particularly for natural gas. It has said it
plans to boost domestic consumption of natural gas from Iran and to
export Iranian gas to Europe.