Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Enriched Uranium: From Russia with Love (or without it)

After years of debates and UN sanctions over Iran’s uranium enrichment program, Russia began delivering to Iran uranium U-235 isotope enriched by 3.62%. The enriched uranium will be used at Bushehr’s nuclear reactor, the first such power plant in Iran. The arrival of enriched uranium brought expression of relief and approval in Tehran. Reza Aghazadeh, head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), welcomed the delivery and said it was “particularly important because of Russia’s role in the UN Security Council and 5+1 group.” Russia announced all deliveries of nuclear fuel to Bushehr will be under IAEA control. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said Iran has submitted written guarantees that the fuel will be used only for Bushehr.

The expression of relief and approval notwithstanding, the Iranian leaders must be, or should be, very concerned. As soon as the enriched uranium shipment arrived from Siberia, Tehran’s long-standing argument in defense of its enrichment program ceased to exist. A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, summed up Tehran’s predicament: “If the Russians are providing the Iranians fuel, the Iranians have no reason to enrich uranium themselves.”

What seemed at first an Iranian victory in having the ability even to import enriched uranium in the face of UN and US sanctions, is now appearing as a turning point in uniting the major powers, including Russia and China, against Iran’s enrichment program.

The pressure on Tehran to suspend its program will multiply in the coming weeks. A Russian foreign ministry statement announcing the delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran might have summed up the kind of pressure in the making: “New conditions have been created whereby Iran should now undertake steps required by UN Security Council resolutions.” UNSC has passed two resolutions requiring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

President Bush alluded to Tehran’s difficulties now that they have received their enriched uranium. He said the Russian shipments of nuclear fuel to Iran meant the Islamic Republic did not need to enrich uranium, Iran “will be a threat to peace if we don't stop their enrichment.”

The Iranians scrambled to come up with answers. IAEO’s Aghazadeh told reporters in Tehran that Iran’s own enriched uranium will be used for a power plant that is to be built, the Dakhovin. Iran analysts believe the Dakhovin plant is in very early stages of planning and the start of its construction and completion would take years or decades to come. Aghazadeh’s assertion that an accelerated uranium enrichment program was needed to fuel Dakhovin was met with widespread skepticism.

Sitting in Tehran, the world seemed to be a much simpler place without the gift from Russia, with or without love. Tehran now needs to seriously reevaluate its enrichment program or face a unified front for more sanctions.

1 comment:

Mark Pyruz said...

Uranium enrichment is allowed for in the NPT, for the purposes of peaceful applications of nuclear power and research. For some time now, world politics have attempted to interfere with Iran's nuclear program, so efforts are made toward self-sufficiency. In light of those past experiences, Iran certainly doesn't want to be at the mercy of Russia, or any other nation for its nuclear needs. Uranium enrichment is key to that self-sufficiency. Stricter sanctions are a variable that's been undermined, to a certain extent, by the release of the NIE.