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Iran Delays Nuke Plant to 2014

Could Open Door For Negotiations

— Iran’s decision to delay the startup of a plutonium-producing reactor until 2014 creates time for negotiations and may reduce threats of military strikes to disrupt the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear work, said western diplomats familiar with the talks.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors reported earlier this month that Iran wouldn’t begin operating a new heavy-water reactor in Arak this year as the Iranians originally planned. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly ordered the country to stop work on the project.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delay creates a window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the decade-long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear work. The Islamic Republic’s atomic program will be the subject of talks at today’s quarterly IAEA meeting in Vienna.

No country in the Middle East has finished building a plutonium-producing reactor since Israel’s Dimona reactor began operating in 1963. Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq’s heavy-water reactor in a June 1981 raid. Another Israeli attack destroyed an alleged Syrian heavy-water reactor in September 2007.

“There has been relatively little concern expressed about the prospect that the Arak reactor would give Iran a capability to generate weapons-grade plutonium,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Many of the world’s unsafeguarded nuclear programs — in North Korea, Pakistan, Israel and India — have pursued the plutonium route to the bomb using reactors similar to that which Iran is currently building.”

Arak has no scientific or technological problems and scientists will begin testing the reactor in the “near future” by loading inert slugs without nuclear material into the fuel rods, the Islamic Republic News Agency said Wednesday, citing Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization. IAEA inspectors haven’t been able to monitor Arak’s construction since Iran completed its dome in 2009.

Access to Arak has been a central point of contention between Iran and IAEA inspectors. Iran says investigators aren’t entitled to design information about the facility until nuclear fuel has been loaded into the plant. The U.N. agency contends the country is obligated to provide detailed data about the site.