Iran's heavy-water production plant in Arak, southwest of Tehran..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As talks between world powers and Iran came to a close without any signs of progress, Tehran said Sunday that the Arak research reactor, which the West fears can be used to make plutonium for a nuclear bomb, would continue its work with 40 megawatts of power.
In comments carried by Iran's Press TV, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi emphasized that the Arak reactor would remain a heavy water facility and also stressed that Iran has the right to enrich uranium.
The fate of Arak which has not yet been completed is one of the central issues in negotiations between Iran and the world powers, aimed at reaching a long-term deal on Tehran’s nuclear program by a July 20 deadline.
Araqchi said on Friday that no progress had been made during the fourth round of negotiations
"The talks were serious and constructive but no progress has been made," Araqchi told reporters at the end of the fourth round of negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia.
The negotiations began in February and are aimed at reaching a long-term deal to curb sensitive parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a gradual lifting of sanctions.
"We have not reached the point to start drafting the final agreement," he said.
“Talks have been slow and difficult. Significant gaps remain,” a US official said after the talks concluded. “Iran still has some hard decisions to make. We’re concerned that progress is not being made and that time is short.”
After three months of comparing expectations rather than negotiating possible compromises, the sides had planned at the May 13-16 meeting to start drafting the text of a final agreement that could overcome many years of enmity and mistrust and dispel fears of a devastating, wider Middle East war.
Tehran claims its nuclear program is for only power generation and medical purposes.
The next round of nuclear talks will take place in Vienna on June 16-20, Araghchi was reported as saying by the IRNA official state news agency on Sunday.
In a related development, Iranian media reported that an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation would visit Tehran on Monday to discuss Iran's nuclear work.
In April, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the P5+1 powers had agreed to a proposal
presented by Iran to alter thea course of production at the Arak plant.
Heavy-water reactors such as Arak, fueled by natural uranium, are seen as especially suitable for yielding plutonium.
To do so, however, a spent fuel pre-processing plant would be needed to extract it. Iran is not known to have any such plant.
If operating optimally, Arak – located about 250 km. southwest of Tehran – could produce about 9 kg. of plutonium annually, the US Institute for Science and International Security says.
Any deal must lower that amount, Western experts say.
In April, Princeton University experts said that annual plutonium production could be cut to less than a kilogram – well below the roughly 8 kg. needed for an atomic bomb – if Iran altered the way Arak is fueled and lowered its power capacity.