The deadline has passed

The deadline for Iranian compliance with a UNSC resolution calling for suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has now passed:

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran underlined its disregard Friday for the U.N. deadline to halt uranium enrichment — now expired — when its president vowed never to give up its nuclear program and accused the West of misrepresenting Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Although the U.N. nuclear watchdog reported Thursday that Iran has not halted enrichment, thereby opening the way for punitive measures, U.S. and other officials said no action would be sought before a key European diplomat meets with Tehran’s atomic chief next week to seek a compromise.

On Friday, in the first comments by an Iranian official since the deadline passed, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told a rally, “Exploitation of peaceful nuclear energy is our obvious right. We will never give up our legal right.”

The IAEA has provided some words of encouragement:

VIENNA, Aug. 31 — The global nuclear monitoring agency deepened suspicions on Thursday about Iran’s nuclear program, reporting that inspectors had discovered new traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian facility.

Inspectors have found such uranium, which at extreme enrichment levels can fuel bombs, twice in the past. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at least some of those samples came from contaminated equipment that Iran had obtained from Pakistan. But in this case, the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples, an official familiar with the inspections said, raising questions about their origin.

The conclusion of the report is, apparently, that the IAEA is unable to confirm that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, largely due to lack of cooperation from the Iranians. This is in direct contradiction of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. The report has not been released to the public.

The agency, however, seems intent on preserving its status as a mugwump:

“Inspectors have not uncovered any concrete proof that Iran’s nuclear program is of a military nature,” the diplomat [ed. a senior diplomat close to the IAEA] said. “At the same time, there is a standstill with regard to the resolution of outstanding issues which would clarify the peaceful nature of Iran’s program.”

The closest thing to a “smoking gun” in the report is the finding that Iran has been pursuing the technology for casting uranium hemispheres (ibid);

The report also states that the IAEA is trying to obtain a 15-page report describing Iran’s process of casting and forming uranium metal into “hemispheres.” Experts say uranium metal must be cast into such shapes to form the core of a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA initially was allowed to review the document and take notes, according to the report. However, after a mid-August visit Iranian officials told inspectors they would not be able to analyze the report and destroyed the notes they had taken. The document remains under seal in Iran, the report states.

There is not much in the way of use for such things other than in nuclear weapons.

That alone is enough to convince John Bolton (ibid):

“Apart from few very sophisticated uses for uranium metal by the most advanced nuclear programs in the world, the only real use for uranium metal is a nuclear weapon,” he said.

To summarize the facts of the situation:

  • Iran has a right to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
  • Iran is continuing its program of nuclear enrichment despite a UNSC resolution demanding it suspend the activity.
  • The IAEA has been unable to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear development program.
  • Iran has had materials in its possession whose nearly certain use is in the development of nuclear weapons.
  • Iran has convinced at least some in the West that it is actively pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.
  • Iran has convincced at least some of its own people that it is actively pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.

To summarize the reasonable conjectures:

  • The reason that the IAEA has been unable to confirm the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear development program is because Iran has failed to live up to its obligations under the NPT (the IAEA has said as much).
  • U. S. human intelligence within Iran is very poor.
  • We don’t know where all of Iran’s nuclear development facilities are.
  • Any but the most lenient of sanctions are unlikely to be approved by the UNSC veto-wielding Russia or China.
  • A minimal sanctions regime alone is unlikely to alter the behavior of the Iranian regime.

My own conclusions are that the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Iran is, indeed, developing nuclear weapons, that bombing Iran’s known nuclear facilities is unlikely to end Iran’s nuclear weapons development program and may even promote it, that the UNSC is unlikely to be helpful in resolving the situation, and that more creativity needs to be shown in diplomacy than has been the case to date to achieve much of anything.

I also should mention that Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s highly agonistic mode of discourse (which may be very effective in communicating with his fellow-citizens) is not productive in communicating with the West. This is something I’ve written about before in the context of Iraq.

The trends are really not going in the right direction.


You may also find this transcript of an interview with Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations given by an Australian radio program host interesting. Here’s part I found revealing:

ELEANOR HALL: And Kasra Naji, what’s your sense of the popular support for the nuclear program? Is it support for a civilian program or would Iranians in fact support nuclear weapons development?

KASRA NAJI: It’s a good question. I really don’t know the answer to that. On the question of a peaceful nuclear program, there is quite a bit of support for that, from amongst the people.

Many people you talk to say, if Pakistan has it, if India has it, if Israel has it, why can’t we have it?

It should be remembered that uncertainty about the state of Iran’s nuclear weapons development has many of the same negative consequences as an open, confirmed development program would have: it destabilizes the political situation in the region and influences Iran’s neighbors to pursue nuclear weapons of their own. Need I say that the same is true of Israel’s presumed nuclear weapons?

2 comments… add one
  • The flow of reasoning and the conclusions seems fair and sound IF “the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples” (and it doesn’t turn out to be a story like the stolen laptop).

    Your second blockquote is a quotation from “an official familiar with the inspections”, and not from “IAEA officials”. This is what initiated my use of “IF” in my first sentence.

    We should wait to see if the IAEA actually confirms it.
    MehrNews has the persian translation of the latest report. Although I’ve not seen discrepancies in its previous translations, it has ties to the Iranian government, and therefore, I’ll wait for the IAEA report in its website

  • With regard to the discovery of a new source of HEU, the IAEA unofficially believes it may be from spent nuclear fuel (from the 5MW Tehran reactor) moved during the Iran-Iraq war. This should be relatively easy to verify since the fuel is still in Iran un IAEA safeguard.

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