Iran and Nuclear Weapoms
As we examine the fallout from the “paused” negotiations on nuclear production facilities in Iran and the trading blame, by Kerry of Iran and of Iran on divisions among the six (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China and US) negotiation teams, largely reported as between the US and France, today, I received the report of the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program. Recently, I also received David Albright submission in early October to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. To understand in part both the progress and the pause in the negotiations, it is helpful to read both reports. My own take on the two reports follow. The reports themselves can be accessed as follows:
1. IAEA Safeguards Report on Iran
2. “Reversing Iran’s Nuclear Program: Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Program and Technically Assessing Negotiating Positions”
Three days ago, Iran and the IAEA signed the long awaited Joint Statement Framework for Cooperation; the technical talks over the last two years in Vienna and Tehran have been critical to facilitating or blocking the current political negotiations and the breakthrough on this agreement is a necessary prerequisite to the successful resumption of the political talks. I myself had believed that the pause in the international negotiations was about Iran getting the go-ahead from the ayatollah leaders to make the final compromises. Given this agreement, it seems likely that go ahead had already been received and that the technical agreement was necessary to show a full readiness at transparency.
My own summary of the two reports based on three issues: 1) transparency 2) Iran’s preparations for ready convertibility to enable the production of nuclear weapons; and 3) ability to produce weapon’s grade enriched uranium, concludes:
1) There is no problem with what is NOW taking place at either the underground plants at the Natanz or Fordan sites in terms of transparency and in terms of any further increase in weapons production capability since no additional centrifuges have been installed and the ones there have not been fed uranium hexafluoride, but the capability of those two plants had already been enhanced to enable Iran up until very recently to produce significant quantities of material from its almost 20,000 gas centrifuges and, further, Iran continued its enrichment programs at those facilities even while under IAEA monitoring; nevertheless, the IAEA verified that what Iran disclosed was accurate;
2) Re Esfahan uranium conversion and fuel fabrication, in terms of material, Iran had increased its stockpile of enriched almost 20% uranium hexafluoride to 196kg from its small accumulation previously and has a very large stockpile of both its uranium in hexafluoride and oxide form that can be readily converted into weapons grade uranium and the verification procedures confirmed the accuracy of Iran’s reports; more worrisome, on 5 November Iran resumed its conversion process that it had stopped earlier;
3) the gap between the decision to go ahead and the breakout point is down to 4-6 weeks;
4) the stockpile is coming very close to Israel’s pre-announced red line of a maximum stockpile of 240 kg when such a stockpile could trigger an Israeli military response, and, given the shortening time line, therefore increasing the likelihood of a military response;
5) When the Arak reactor is completed (for example, the control room machinery, the refueling mechanism and the reactor pumps have not yet been installed), all necessary for a heavy water reactor more suited to the production of weapons grade uranium that any material needed for peaceful uses, the goal Iran claims to be pursuing (President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have repeatedly reiterated that Iran’s facilities are only designed for peaceful purposes and Iran has no intention of developing the capability of building a bomb – President Hassan Rouhani NBC Nightly News interview 18 September 2013: “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb. We are not going to do so. We are solely seeking peaceful nuclear technology.”), Iran will be in a position to produce enough weapon’s grade uranium (WGU) to rapidly produce enriched uranium for an as yet modest weapons program probably by the middle of next year, perhaps accounting for Netanyahu’s repeated hysterical protests about the negotiations; further, Iran already has enough heavy water for the operation of the plant;
6) There is a real problem of transparency at the Arak reactor but there is no evidence that the Arak reactor is in production yet.
7) Iran had continued to resist pressure to provide design and facility progress reports to the IAEA on the Arak Heavy Water reactor, a very serious concern since Arak can directly produce plutonium, but in this recently signed agreement, has agreed to verification procedures, including providing full information on the Gehine mine in Bandar Abbas, the new heavy water production plant, any new research reactors, full information on 16 designated sites for possible construction of nuclear production facilities and on enrichment efforts;
8) I have not seen sufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about Iran’s progress in its deliverable capabilities;
9) We do not know what we do not know – whether Iran is secretly building facilities elsewhere;
10) Most bothersome, Iran has as yet refused to sign the additional protocol to the agreement re undeclared nuclear material and activities.
Summary: Iran has not made any decision to produce nuclear weapons but is coming closer to having a capacity to develop such weapons quickly once a decision is made. However, it might be taken that this full transparency agreement indicates that Iran is ready to make another significant at least pause in its momentum towards nuclear capability even further than the decision made in 2003. So both Kerry and and Zarif may be correct that a deal is very near. A lot depends on the few outstanding issues, including the signing of the additional protocol.
My own belief now is that if the negotiations are concluded, Iran will keep to the deal, and is not simply play acting to act behind the backs of the international community at least for the next several years until its economy substantially recovers and during that time, Iran’s pledges can be tested as the sanctions are gradually lifted, namely:
1. FULL transparency, especially re Arak;
2. No further enrichment and subject to inspection;
3. Placing enriched uranium to almost 20% in escrow (How much? when? and where?)
4. Dismantling of some cascades of centrifuges;
But as in any arms agreement, there is clearly a risk, most specifically for Israel. Further, if Iran proves to be continuing on a path of deception and obfuscation, the momentum of the sanctions and the will to take and public moral authority for military action will have been lost.
Corrections, comments and feedback very welcome.