- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The White House is downplaying the latest report from a United Nations watchdog that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel has grown by roughly 20 percent over the past 18 months and not been “frozen” during that period as the Obama administration has previously claimed.

Administration spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that the International Atomic Energy Agency findings are “merely a snapshot in time” and U.S. officials remain confident that Iran is working to shrink its stockpile under terms agreed to in nuclear talks with Washington and other world powers.

A central facet of the talks, which are now racing toward a June 30 deadline for a final deal, has been that Iran would reduce its stockpile low-enriched uranium down to a level of 300 kilograms. But that has yet to occur, according to the IAEA report issued late last week.

The New York Times, which first reported Tuesday on the IAEA claim, maintained that Western officials and experts are uncertain about why the Iranian stockpile is growing rather than shrinking. While one explanation is that Iran is having technical problems that have kept it from converting some of its enriched uranium into fuel rods for civilian reactors, another is that Tehran is actively increasing its stockpile to secure an edge if the nuclear talks collapse at the end of this month, The Times reported.

At the White House, Mr. Earnest stressed that as part of the potential nuclear deal that could see a lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, the Islamic Republic has been allowed to continue enriching uranium at a low level.

“That means there are going to be ebbs and flows in terms of the amount of uranium, low-enriched uranium in their stockpile,” he said. “The requirement is for them to be at the cap by June 30, and our nuclear experts continue to have confidence that they will meet that requirement.

“We’ve seen the similar ebb and flow in their uranium stockpile in advance of previous deadlines, and each time, they have met the deadline,” Mr. Earnest added. “We’re confident that they’ll do so this time.”

But Tuesday’s development flies in the face of past comments by top Obama administration officials. Secretary of State John F. Kerry told reporters in November that as nuclear negotiations carried forward, Iran’s program was “frozen.”

At the same time, however, Mr. Kerry and others, including Mr. Earnest from the White House press podium, have insisted that a final deal with Iran is not a foregone conclusion. Mr. Earnest told reporters in March that the chances for a final deal were “still at best 50-50.”

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