Friday, November 16, 2007

Decision Time?

Today's U.K. Guardian report on Iran's nuclear program is largely a rehash of points we've already made. Citing the recently-released IAEA report on Tehran's nuclear efforts, the Guardian notes that Iran now has upwards of 3,000 centrifuges in operation, an array that could produce enough enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon a year, assuming that sufficient purity levels are attained.

And, as the paper observes, the 3,000 centrifuge array may represent a "red line" for potential military action. Allowing Iran to operate the centrifuges for a sustained period--and add more to the operation--would allow Tehran to master the production of nuclear fuel, an important step in developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. has long stated that Iran will not be allowed to obtain nukes, but it's unclear at what point we would employ military force. Similar red lines exist for Israel, which views Tehran's nuclear program and long-range missile forces with growing apprehension.

In some respects, the IAEA report underscore the inability of that organization--and the larger international community--to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. Former U.N. arms inspector David Kay (who would never be described as a neocon or a John Bolton clone) said that the IAEA assessment tries to "put a happy face on a worsening situation."

"The main issue is that Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges," he said. "The report doesn't even judge the quality of the information being offered, but it's clear it is giving minimal answers."

Indeed, even the nuclear agency acknowledges that Tehran's cooperation has been "reactive rather than proactive." In other words, getting information out of Iran has been the inspection equivalent of pulling teeth. While the IAEA commended Iran for providing access to individuals and answering questions, it seems clear that such cooperation has been reluctant, at best.

So, do these events genuinely place the U.S. and its allies at a decision point for military action?

At this juncture, we still believe the answer is "no." Despite claims that plans for an Iran operation are "up to date," we have not seen a build-up of air and naval forces that would likely signal an attack. The U.S. has also done nothing (at least officially) to discourage on-going diplomatic efforts, included tougher sanctions.

However, progress on that track is decidedly slow; as the Guardian notes, a planned U.N. security council meeting on sanctions, scheduled for Monday, has been postponed because the Chinese delegation is unable to attend. Both Beijing and Moscow--with extensive economic and military ties to Iran--are urging more diplomacy before new sanctions are imposed. Both Russia and China remained opposed to any military action against Tehran.

Against that backdrop--and with U.S. military forces stretched thin by on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan--the Bush Administration appears hesitant to pull the trigger. That's one reason that Tehran remains bellicose in official statements on its nuclear program, and refuses to back down. At this point, Iran believes it has little to fear from pressing ahead with its nuclear ambitions, even if it has pushed the west to a decision time.


El Jefe Maximo said...

I think the answer to whether or not the US is at the decision point over action on Iran is, "not yet" which is more or less what I understand your position to be.

I think though, that in addition to the forces being out of position, the political spadework is not yet done, or even begun. As you indicated in an earlier post, President Bush has not in general shown much sensitivity to naked political considerations in determining his military and foreign policy course -- but he is not oblivious to these concerns either, particularly in an election year.

I think, then, if nothing can be achieved diplomatically, that he is going to have to maneuver in such a way as to get the Iranians to do something. He must try to put the onus more completely on them for forcing a military confrontation. Otherwise, we had best get used to another madman state with nukes.

Unknown said...

Nonsense. Those centrifuges make low-enriched uranium which CANNOT be used to make bombs - doesn't matter if there's 3000 or 30 million of them - and they're under constant IAEA surveillance.

The Iranians have offered to place additional restrictions on their enrichment program - beyond their legal obligations - to ensure that the centrifuges can't even theoretically be secretly used to make bomb-grade enriched uranium. For example, they've offered to operate the facility as a joint venture with foreign governments.
Even Brazil and Argentina, which have recently developed the same technology, have not made such an offer.

Snake Oil Baron said...

The link appears to be an anti-war blog with a comment by another anti-war blog quoting an anti-war NGO. Is there a less invested source that might help corroborate the claim that these centrifuges can not be used to make bombs? The UN is very anti-American and thus pro-revolutionary Iranian but their experts in nuclear proliferation have not done much to assure us that these centrifuges pose no risk. If you can provide me something that would be more compelling I would be more likely to accept what you say as true.

Assuming that Iran is trying to get nukes (and they are going out of their way to convince people like me that they are) there is little that the international community would do since it assumes that the only nation Iran would use nukes against is Israel and perhaps America if their leaders were feeling suicidal.

Unknown said...

Read the IAEA report. It says that Iran is making only low-enriched uranium. Just because an "antiwar blog" says something is not reason to go batshit. Go google it yourself. Sheesh

amr said...

Iraq seemed to think that centrifuges would work or so it was reported. The purpose is to separate U-235 from U-238 a little bit at a time until one has enough U-235 at 93.5% purity to make a bomb or 5% for reactor fuel. I wonder what has happened to the story that the Iranians accidentally gave the IAEA a blueprint on a warhead and tried to explain it away.

As I have written elsewhere being a former senior reactor operator and nuclear facility test engineer:
The problem with developing a nuclear power program from scratch is the system designs and most important is the fuel rod design and metallurgy; the metallurgical problems plagued the power industry for some time. Why would one want to go through that when designs exist from multiple sources that are not American? Russia is building one in Iran now. So with their economy coming apart, why would they spend all of that money on developing a independent nuclear power plant program? National pride? Maybe, but I for one doubt it. If it was peaceful, they could easily show their system designs for their facilities as GE, Westinghouse and CE did in the past and the corporations pushing the pebble reactor designs are doing now. There should be, in my opinion, no one in the West accepting their explanations.

Now what do we, the West, do before the Mad Mullahs unleash the Islamic bomb. To do nothing may make WWII look like a minor war in comparison if looking at total deaths. We are following the same path as was done in 1939. But the West is noted for failing to act preemptively. As Winston Churchill said:

"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."

I hope we are not engaging in designing a suicide pact for ourselves. Our enemies are perfectly willing to die for their beliefs, which was amply demonstrated during the Iraqi-Iranian War and they believe that we are so soft that we could not face the resulting 7th century world as they could. I seem to remember another country having the same mindset just prior to Pearl Harbor. No lessons learned here; move along.

Papa Ray said...

Even if Iran can't or won't have nukes in a year or ten, they will someday, announce that they do.

When they do, the blackmail and panic starts for real.

And the race for the rest of the ME to get their nukes and missiles as soon as possible.

So, just to be clear. Iran doesn't have to have anything.

Just as long as there is one chance that they do, the results will be the same.

Papa Ray
West Texas

davod said...

Why should we believ anything the IAEA says. El Baradi (sp) is on reciord as saying he will do anything to avoid miltary action against Iran.

As for the warjead plans. Doesn't anyone find it a little suspicious tht the IAEA gets the plans (or sees them) by accident then waits months for the Iranians to prove a response. Another IAEA delaying tactic?

eatyourbeans said...

I'd guess that Iran is neither suicidal nor stupid nor insane. They want the bomb because nobody will dare attack them while they undertake the real strategy, which is slowly, bite by bite, subversion by subversion, to dominate the mid east oil. Russia, another friendly supplier, has its own scores to settle against the West, so things will get chilly for us in more ways than one.

It's possible that this iron/koran curtain will need customers as much as we need their oil and gas, and so we'll all be business partners and mortal enemies at the same time. Greed saves the world from destroying itself.

It's also possible that the preceding paragraph is nothing but wishing thinking.

Richard Heddleson said...

Read the IAEA report.

That's a convincing argument.

Iran will lose its bomb making capability between election day and inauguration day.