U.N. could report slower growth in Iran's nuclear stockpile

A report by a U.N. nuclear watchdog due this week is anticipated to show that the growth of Iran's higher-grade enriched uranium stockpile slowed because some material was used to create reactor fuel.

If the development is confirmed in the quarterly report, the development might allow time for world powers to attempt to find a negotiated settlement to a decade-old dispute in the Middle East. Six world powers and Iran will meet for the first time in eight months next week to try to break the stalemate, Reuters reports.

Israel previously set a rough deadline of mid-2013 as the date by which Tehran could have enough higher-grade uranium to produce one atomic bomb. It warned that it might bomb Iran's nuclear sites as a last resort. If Iran is converted some of the uranium to reactor fuel, the slowdown of the stockpile could postpone Israel's red line for action.

Relief could be short lived, however, because Iran is planning to deploy advanced enrichment machines that could speed up material accumulation. One diplomat said that Iran may have already installed dozens of the new machines, though the equipment is not yet operational.

"There is continued enrichment...but they have also resumed the fuel plate production for the Tehran research reactor so that has offset some of the 20 percent stockpile," a Western diplomat said, according to Reuters. "I think there will still be a small increase in the 20 percent (stockpile)."

Experts said that as much as 250 kilograms would be needed for a nuclear bomb, if refined to 90 percent. If Iran did not convert any material for fuel, it would reach the amount of material needed sometime in June.

Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Kazakhstan with Iran to discuss the nuclear stalemate, Reuters reports.