There are twin stories on Iran today. In the first Iran has announced a dramatic expansion of its uranium refinement capability:
NATANZ, Iran – Iran announced a dramatic expansion of uranium enrichment Monday, saying it has begun operating 3,000 centrifuges — nearly 10 times the previously known number — in defiance of U.N. demands it halt its nuclear program or face increased sanctions.
U.S. experts say 3,000 centrifuges are in theory enough to produce a nuclear weapon, perhaps within a year. But they doubted Iran really had so many up and running, a difficult technical feat given the country’s spotty success with a much smaller number.
Instead, the announcement may aim to increase support at home amid growing criticism of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and to boost Iran’s hand with the West by presenting its program as established, said Michael Levi, a nonproliferation expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations.
“From a political perspective, it’s more important to have (3,000 centrifuges) in place than to have them run properly,” Levi told The Associated Press. “We have an unfortunate habit to take Iran at its word when they make scary announcements.”
The White House and Europe criticized the latest announcement.
“Iran continues to defy the international community and further isolate itself by expanding its nuclear program, rather than suspending uranium enrichment,” said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
In another story Open Europe, a British think tank, has announced a poll of Europeans in which it was found that a majority supported a preemptive strike on Iran to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons:
A majority (51%) of people in the UK would back military action against Iran. A majority agreed with the statement “We must stop countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if that means taking military action”. Across the EU as a whole, 52% said they agreed with the statement. A majority agreed with the statement in 18 member states, while a majority were against in 9 member states.
More people in the UK are concerned about Islamic fundamentalism than in any other EU country. 71% agreed with the statement that “Islamic fundamentalism is a serious threat for our country”, compared to an EU average of 58%.
However, few voters in the EU would be prepared to see cuts in other spending programmes to finance higher defence spending. Only 37% of UK voters and 23% of all EU voters agreed with the statement that, “Our country should spend more on defence and less on other things.”
Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds
The complete results (including the questions) of the poll are here.
It’s unclear to me how we’d know that Iran was on the verge of having such weapons. Nor do I see how military action (short of genocide or military occupation) would prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons.