A New York Times report Tuesday shows increases in Iran's stockpile of nuclear fuel are "undercutting" the Obama administration's claims to have "frozen" or rolled back its nuclear program during a period of negotiations.
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With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been "frozen" during that period.
But Western officials and experts cannot quite figure out why. One possibility is that Iran has run into technical problems that have kept it from converting some of its enriched uranium into fuel rods for reactors, which would make the material essentially unusable for weapons. Another is that it is increasing its stockpile to give it an edge if the negotiations fail.
President Obama told CNN's Candy Crowley Dec. 21 that "you look at an example like Iran, over the last year and a half, since we began negotiations with them, that's probably the first year and a half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade."
"Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material," Obama said during his State of the Union Jan. 20.
In an interview with Vox posted in February, Obama said, "We have been able to freeze the program for the first time and, in fact, roll back some elements of its program, like its stockpiles of ultra highly enriched uranium." During his weekly online address April 4, Obama claimed Iran "had agreed that it will not stockpile the materials it needs to build a weapon."
Secretary of State John Kerry told This Week March 1, "The fact is, the interim agreement has been adhered to. It has been inspected. We have proven that we have slowed Iran's–even set back–its nuclear program."
In various press briefings, spokeswomen Marie Harf and Jen Psaki made similar assertions about the impact of the Joint Plan of Action, as has White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
Harf called the New York Times story "bizarre" and inaccurate Tuesday. However, analysis from the Institute for Science and International Security agreed with the article's contention that Iran effectively had stockpiled enough low-enriched uranium that it would be nearly "impossible for them to meet those obligations in practice," as blogger Omri Ceren put it.