U.S. officials say they may agree to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium up to 5 percent purity, the outside limit for most civilian uses, if Iran agrees to unrestricted inspections, rigorous oversight and other measures the United Nations has demanded to reduce the nation's ability to develop a nuclear bomb, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
But the Times noted Iran has not indicated much willingness to adhere to international demands and the prospect of allowing the uranium enrichment likely would face objections from Israeli leaders, as well as Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and numerous members of Congress.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran has produced about 210 pounds of 20 percent-enriched uranium, a level at which uranium can be refined to weapons grade -- about 90 percent enriched -- with relative ease, the Times said. The nation also has about 6 tons at 5 percent enriched or below.
As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to enrich uranium if it follows rules to prevent bomb making.
The six world powers that have had talks with Iran on its nuclear program -- the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany -- have agreed Iran must discontinue all 20 percent enrichment. Iran and the six world powers are to begin a second round of talks in Baghdad, Iraq, May 23.
Meanwhile, Asqar Soltaniyeh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, said the country will begin a new round of talks with the agency May 13-14 in Vienna, Austria, at the offices of Iran's mission to the IAEA, the semiofficial FARS News Agency reported Saturday.
Soltaniyeh said Iran's decision to resume talks with the IAEA "shows the peaceful nature of all of its nuclear activities, while showing that claims against Iran are baseless."
An IAEA team said in February it wasn't allowed access to the Parchin military installation, southeast of Tehran, which the agency suspects may house a nuclear weapons program. But Iran has since said it would allow inspectors access to Parchin.
Iran has said its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, but Western countries fear it is working toward developing nuclear weapons.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran for not abandoning uranium enrichment.