Moving Beyond Nuclear Gridlock with Iran

Fox news, September 17, 2008

Alireza Jafarzadeh (Foreign Affairs Analyst)

“Gridlock” and “dead end.” That’s how the U.N. officials are describing the current nuclear impasse between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and ayatollahs’ regime in Iran. No big surprise. The Iranian regime president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said many times that enrichment suspension is his regime’s “red line.”

On Monday, September 15, the Director General of the IAEA released its report to the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors on status of Tehran’s nuclear compliance, or lack thereof, with four UNSC resolutions. The report was damming; a “progress report without progress” as one senior U.N. official put it.

The report definitively states that Tehran, in defiance of the international will, has remained in breach of four UN Security Council resolutions demanding to suspend its uranium enrichment, the core component of the nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA’s last report, released in May 2008, was alarming. Still the September report includes chilling conclusions and observations. It says that Tehran has substantially improved the development and performance of the centrifuges at the underground nuclear facility in Natanz, currently at approximately 85 percent of their target capacity. Iran’s nuclear program, controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and intimately supervised by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has overcome many of the technical problems. The hike in performance, however, must also be attributed, according to the report’s findings, to installation of new and more advanced cascades of centrifuges.

Ayatollahs’ plan is to produce enough low enriched uranium (LEU), right under the eyes of the IAEA and under the pretext of a benign peaceful program, and then by injecting it back into the centrifuge cascades, produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), a weapons-usable material. It is important to note that it takes much more time and resources to produce low enriched uranium than it does to subsequently further enrich it to weapons-usable grade. According to the analysts from the British American Security Information Council, only an additional cost and effort of 20 percent is needed to produce HEU from LEU, compared to the cost and effort involved in producing LEU from natural uranium.

According to the IAEA report, Iran is now in the possession of about 480 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU). Estimates differ over how much LEU is needed to produce enough HEU for building a bomb. Its range is between 800 to 1700 kilograms of LEU needed to produce 20-25 kilograms of weapons-usable uranium for a nuclear bomb. In light of the expected increase in enrichment performance, Tehran could be only 6 month away from having enough LEU that could be used — once turned into HEU — for one nuclear bomb.

In another significant revelation, the report also indicated that Tehran had used “foreign expertise” for experiments on detonators used for implosion of a nuclear weapon. The agency official did not disclose the source of “foreign expertise” but excluded A.Q. Khan, Libya and North Korea as culprits. Tehran has remained tight-lipped about the origin of this assistance.

The six-page report, due to be discussed by the IAEA’s board of governors next week in Vienna, said that “in light of the many years of clandestine nuclear activities” Iran “needs to provide the Agency with substantive information to support its statements and provide access to relevant documentation and individuals in this regard.” Unless Iran provides such transparency, and implements the Additional Protocol, “the Agency will not be able to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”

The report marks the predictable failure of the fanciful intuitive put forward by the IAEA last summer to set a track outside of the UN Security Council to deal with Tehran’s dubious nuclear activities. The failed initiative merely bestowed the ayatollahs much needed time to resolve the technical issues, and install more and better centrifuges.

The report also reflects the utter failure of the diplomatic track set in motion early this year designed to entice ayatollahs into compliance in exchange for a package of very substantial economic, political, and technological incentives.

With the political turmoil ravaging the apex of ayatollahs’ regime from within, and the mounting popular discontent over irremediable endemic political, economic, and social crisis, Tehran will surely press on acquiring the nuclear weapon to break out its impasse.

Under these circumstances, it would be naiveté of the worst kind to fathom that Khamenei would do away with the nuclear weapon program no matter the size of the incentives and regardless of who will be in the White House come January. It would be equally naïve to expect a breakthrough after June 2009 presidential elections in Iran.

Meanwhile, on September 16, under Executive Order 13438, the United States blacklisted Abdul-Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander of the Qods Force — the terrorist arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — along with four other individuals and two entities for “threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and the Government of Iraq.”

The U.S. Treasury specifically singled out the Qods Force, designated in fall 2007 as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for providing “lethal support in the form of weapons, training, funding, and guidance to select groups of Iraqi Shia militants.”

Confirming the long-held suspicions that the ayatollahs’ regime was behind the well-planned January 20, 2007 ambush in Karbala where five U.S. soldiers were killed, the Treasury statement said that Shahlai planned the attack. As of May 2007, Shahlai served as the final approving and coordinating authority for all Iran-based Lebanese Hizballah training for JAM Special Groups to fight Coalition Forces in Iraq.

The clerical regime intends to bolster itself by possessing nuclear weapons capability and gaining a strategic foothold in Iraq. Emboldened by a lack of firm multi-lateral response to its continued defiance of the UNSC resolutions, and America’s weak response to fend off the Ayatollahs’ drive to eliminate its main opposition based in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, Tehran has hastened its nuclear drive and intensified its nefarious Iraq campaign.

If the mullahs are not stopped, the free world would be soon looking at the calamitous specter of a nuclear-armed state-sponsor of terror bent on using Iraq as a springboard for its aggressive regional agenda. A growing number of Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle believe that sanctions should be coupled with political pressure. They maintain that Washington should reach out to Iran’s main democratic opposition. The continued blacklisting of the opposition has only emboldened the real terrorists ruling Iran in their nuclear drive and violent intervention in Iraq.