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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expert: US offer to Iran caused acceleration of uranium enrichment

Ephraim Asculi of the Institute for National Security Studies argues that the United States proposal to provide Iran with 20% enriched uranium provided Iran with the impetus to produce that uranium on its own (Hat Tip: Shmuel Rosner)

In any case, the failure of the deal gave Iran the excuse it needed for enriching its uranium to 20%, and therein lies the greatest danger to the outside world. For purposes of illustration, assume that approximately 3000 units of work are needed to produce 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to 90%, the amount and purity needed for a nuclear explosive device. Of these, some 2350 units are needed to enrich the uranium to 3.5%. Five hundred units are needed to further enrich the uranium to 20%, and only 150 units of work are needed to enrich the uranium from 20 to 90 percent. If the enrichment facility is ready, this last step can be accomplished in a matter of a few weeks. And this is what could happen if Iran builds up a stock of 20% enriched uranium.

Recently, a debate has risen as to whether Iran has made a decision to assemble a nuclear "bomb" (missile warhead, aerial bomb, etc.). If not, Iran remains a "threshold" state, which could take this decision and then break out and produce nuclear weapons whenever the opportunity or the need arose. If Iran amasses a stock of 20% enriched uranium this discussion is superfluous, since the time between the initial move and the accomplishment of the task is quite short. In this time, and in order to discover the move towards assembling a nuclear weapon, the outside world must first gather the intelligence as to this fact. It then has to verify the facts, since a wrong decision based on false facts can be perilous. After the facts have been gathered and ascertained, decisions on how to react have to be taken, first by individual nations, and then on the international scale. Looking at the history of the long drawn out process behind international decisions on how to deal with the Iranian issue, one can only arrive at the conclusion that if Iran has a stock of 20% enriched uranium it can no longer be considered a threshold state, but a full-fledged nuclear power. This approach is essential, if preparations are to be made to deal with such a situation.

The recent announcements concerning the strengthening by the US of the missile defenses in the Gulf region could be taken as a sign that the US is preparing for such an eventuality. Even worse, this could be taken as a sign that the US has almost given up hope that Iran could be persuaded, either diplomatically or through severe sanctions, to at least suspend, if not dismantle its uranium enrichment operations.

The wisdom of hindsight indicates that the October 2009 proposal by the US for the nuclear fuel deal only accelerated Iran's program towards achieving a nuclear weapons capability. Had the talks concentrated on the larger issues, including uranium enrichment, and had the issue of supplying the Tehran reactor with fuel as the need arises been dealt with separately, it would have been more difficult for Iran to have the excuse it now ostensibly has to enrich uranium to 20%. If the world does not react quickly and competently now that the 20% enrichment operation began, the inevitable will be here before long.
The West is in good hands. What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing.


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