LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials have told The Associated Press.
The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.
Instead of uranium, which can be enriched to be the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, any centrifuges permitted at Fordo would be fed elements such as zinc, xenon or germanium for separating out isotopes used in medicine, industry or science, the officials said. The number of centrifuges would not be enough to produce the amount of uranium needed to produce a weapon within a year – the minimum time-frame that Washington and its negotiating partners demand. […]
Experts say the compromise for Fordo could still be problematic. They note it would allow Iran to keep intact technology that could be quickly repurposed for uranium enrichment at a sensitive facility that the U.S. and its allies originally wanted stripped of all such machines – centrifuges that can spin uranium gas into uses ranging from reactor fuel to weapons-grade material.
And the issue of inspector access and verification is key. Iran has resisted “snap inspections” in the past. Even as the nuclear talks have made progress, Iran has yet to satisfy questions about its past possible nuclear-related military activity. The fact that questions about such activity, known as Possible Military Dimensions, or PMDs, remain unresolved is a serious concern for the U.N. atomic watchdog.
In addition, the site at Fordo is a particular concern because it is hardened and dug deeply into a mountainside making it resistant – possibly impervious – to air attack. Such an attack is an option that neither Israel nor the U.S. has ruled out in case the talks fail.