Cyrus over at Iran Affairs is the best source I've come across for dismantling New York Times articles that mislead their readers toward conclusions favoring hostility against Iran (as against Iraq earlier).
However, David Sanger and William Broad have surprised me with a degree of feigned denseness that is unusual even for that news organization.
Perhaps the most startling revelation in the report is that for the first time Iran told inspectors it was preparing to make its uranium into a metallic form — a step that can be explained by some civilian applications, but is widely viewed as necessary for making the core of an atom bomb. The report does not say what explanation the Iranians offered, if any, for the activity.Just to answer the question, fuel plates for the medical research reactor. Which has been, by far, the biggest new story regarding Iran and nuclear power programs for the past two weeks. (Of course, including stories Broad and Sanger have worked on.)
But really, Sanger and Broad are acting as if they didn't know this? Pretending to be startled? The New York Times does have a way of insulting the intelligence of its readers that is unique even for US news organizations.
Since I'm here, the text of the report itself is available. I found it at ArmsControlWonk. Amano does seem to be more willing than El Baradei was to gloss over the difference between requirements of Iran's safeguards agreement and steps the IAEA and UN Security Council have asked Iran to take that go beyond those steps. Amano actually argues that implementing the Additional Protocols is a requirement of the fissionable materials safeguards agreement written twenty years earlier.
I don't really worry about what lawyers would say at this point. When I did, I felt like Iran's position was easily explained as reasonable. But now, let's say Iran is totally in the wrong legally. Just as wrong as the US was for invading Iraq. So what? A military attack won't stop Iran's program. Sanctions won't stop the program. A color revolution won't stop the program. If Iran's enrichment was legally wrong, I don't see how that has more of an impact than Israel's collective starvation of the people of Gaza for electing Hamas or dropping cluster bombs on civilian farmland in southern Lebanon.
The United States by now is going to have to learn to accept a nuclear-capable Iran. I expect that Iran help with that in the next two or three years when an Iranian official says that the reason Iran does not have a weapon is not that it could not, but that it has decided not to build one.
But about the "startling" metal fabrication. The US has the option of swapping Iran's LEU for medical reactor fuel, provided the US gives guarantees that Iran would actually get fuel - which seems not to have happened so far. Iran would not convert its uranium to metallic form in that case.
A possible guarantee would be explicitly describing the penalties if the full consignment of fuel has not been delivered twelve months after the LEU is exported. Something like Iran would be, in that circumstance, explicitly allowed to purchase several million dollars worth of nuclear products and services from South Africa, Brazil and/or other countries continuously until the deliveries have finished.
This is just to say that specific satisfactory guarantees are not difficult to envision if the US wanted a swap and did not want to use the reactor fuel as negotiating leverage to get Iran to give up enrichment or nuclear weapons capability. But the US does want to use medical isotopes as leverage, so Iran instead will learn to make its own fuel plates which will also deepen its nuclear weapons capability.