Friday, September 25, 2009
Latest Moves on Iran's Nuclear Chessboard
Before President Ahmadinejad's visit to the UN this week, the United States appeared to have pulled off a masterstroke of diplomacy. President Obama decided to scrap the controversial missile defense shield, and it was obvious to most observers that one of the intended consequences of the move would be to sign up the Russians for further potential sanctions to be used against Iran, in the West's drive to coerce it into stopping its nuclear enrichment activities- an activity Iran has the legitimate right to pursue as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Western observers appeared confident that the Islamic Republic was rapidly being placed into a diplomatic box, from where it could no longer wiggle.
Surprise! President Ahmadinejad shows up in New York, and in one of his many interviews, makes an informal request to purchase- of all things- medium enriched uranium from the United States. In addition to that, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran is willing to have its nuclear experts meet with scientists from the United States and other world powers, as a confidence-building measure aimed at resolving concerns about its nuclear program.
Now, it turns out that on Monday, the IAEA was told by Iran that it is in construction of a new pilot fuel enrichment facility. Media sources describe the new facility to be located near Qom, 160 kilometers southwest of Tehran. Contrary to the way this newly disclosed nuclear facility is being depicted in the Western media, the Iranians were under no obligation to disclose this nuclear site until six months before they introduce nuclear materials into it, per established IAEA procedure. They've done this.
These clever, chess-like moves by Iran were surmised well by a commentator at the ACW blog:
1. Under the NPT obligations Iran signed, it has to announce nuclear facilities to the IAEA only 6 months before introducing nuclear material to such a facility. The alleged “secrecy” is thereby a non issue as the facility is not yet in use and was announced to the IAEA on Monday.
2. The NYT says it is a small site for only 3,000 centrifuges. Such a site does NOT make sense to be used as a secondary for the big 50,000 centrifuges (planned end state) site in Natanz.
3. Ahmedinejad asked Thursday for U.S. supply for the Tehran research reactor, which was launched with U.S. help in 1968. That 5 MW reactor has medical and scientific use. It runs with medium enriched Uranium–i.e. 18-20% enrichment–and is under IAEA control.
4. Iran can not make, without some serious re-engineering, such fuel in Natanz.
5. An extra 3,000 centrifuge site makes perfect sense to enrich especially for the Tehran research reactor.
6. Now Iran can say: “Either sell us fuel for the research reactor or we, unfortunately, will have to make that fuel ourselves at the new site.”
Colonel Pat Lang over at his Sic Semper Tyrannis blog put it best, where he said: "Outwitted again!! Damnation!! How do these Iranians do it?"