Nuclear Iran
Nuclear IraniStock

Iran has significantly slowed the pace at which it is accumulating near-weapons-grade enriched uranium and has diluted some of its stockpile, people briefed on the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.

The moves could help ease tensions with the US and allow the resumption of broader talks over Iran’s nuclear program.

The report comes a day after Iran released four US citizens from prison into house arrest, the first step in a planned prisoner swap that Washington expects will eventually see them return home. According to the agreement, if the US detainees are set free, Iran will gain access to billions of dollars of oil revenues trapped in South Korea under US sanctions.

US and European officials have told Iran that if there is de-escalation of tensions over the summer, they would be open to broader talks later this year, including on Iran’s nuclear program, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Iran signed the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers in 2015. In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

Iran responded to Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal by scaling back its compliance with the agreement. The Biden administration, however, sought to return to the deal and held indirect talks with Iran on a return to compliance.

The talks stalled in September after the sides failed to reach an agreement on IAEA probes of Iran’s nuclear activities. However, recent reports indicated that the US and Iran held indirect talks on a new agreement.

Later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denied that an agreement had been reached between the Biden administration and the Iranian government on Iran's nuclear program.

"There is no agreement in the offing, even as we continue to be willing to explore diplomatic paths," Blinken said.

According to The Wall Street Journal report, US officials had hoped Tehran would stop accumulating 60% enriched uranium as one of a series of de-escalatory steps from both sides, which included the prisoners deal.

The sources quoted in the report said that Iran has diluted a small amount of 60% enriched uranium in recent weeks and slowed the rate at which it is accumulating new material. Iran’s stockpile has grown since the 114 kilograms of highly enriched uranium Iran was recorded having in May, but it could easily dilute more of the 60% it has produced to get back to that level. It isn’t yet clear if Tehran plans to do that.

While Iran’s production rate of enriched uranium can fluctuate for a number of technical reasons—including maintenance work at one of its two nuclear facilities—the fact that Iran has diluted some highly enriched uranium strongly suggests the slower accumulation of 60% material is intentional, according to the report.

Nonetheless, even if it does stop accumulating 60% material, Tehran has enough of the material for at least two nuclear bombs. US officials said this year Iran could field a nuclear weapon within several months.

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)