Iran has neutralized most of its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium that could be turned quickly into the core of a nuclear weapon, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, leaving the country with only about a fifth of what it would need for such a purpose.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a in a quarterly report that Iran now has less than 90 pounds of the material.
The report also said Tehran was meeting all other obligations under an agreement reached four months ago in Geneva that serves as a prelude to a comprehensive deal now being negotiated.
The findings are likely to be welcomed by the six powers trying to negotiate an end to the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Iran has consistently denied any interest in obtaining atomic weapons, saying it is only interested in civilian nuclear power, something allowed under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Diplomats and analysts caution, however, that the positions of Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China remain far apart and that a successful outcome of their diplomatic efforts is far from certain.
As part of the deal, Iran agreed to dilute or convert all of its stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent in return for limited sanctions relief. At the 20 percent level, uranium is only one technical step away from use as the core of a nuclear warhead. Iran had produced almost enough 20 percent material for such a weapon until it stopped in January and started transforming what it had.
On another closely watched aspect of Iran's nuclear activities, the report said that Iran, at a meeting in Tehran this week, had shown the IAEA information that simultaneous firing of a type of detonator was tested for a civilian application.
The IAEA, which for years has been trying to investigate allegations that Iran may have worked on designing a nuclear bomb, had asked for explanations about the development of Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators as part of its probe.
How Iran responds to the U.N. agency's questions is seen as an important test of its readiness to cooperate with the investigation into what the IAEA calls the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the country's nuclear program.
Iran, it said, was engaging on the issue "for the first time ... since 2008," by providing documents on the use of detonators that the agency suspects were part of experiments on setting off a nuclear charge. But IAEA said Iran continues to assert that its tests were for civilian use in its documentation.