How Iran learned to love the atom

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Iran has seen its nuclear programme as a route to modernity since the time of the Shah, journalist and author David Patrikarakos says. Appreciating this attitude towards nuclear technology is essential to understanding modern Iran and its current diplomatic clash with the West.

Patrikarakos is the author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State, and speaking on a IISS panel this week, he painted the country as one preoccupied with strengthening its geopolitical position after decades of perceived weakness and Western hostility. As in other developing nations, nuclear technology was perceived as a way to address a ‘prestige deficit’ in relation to the West.

Major Western powers and Israel have been concerned in recent years by Tehran’s high level of unnecessary uranium enrichment and other activity pointing to its possible development of nuclear weapons. Fellow panellist Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, a lecturer on Contemporary Middle East and Iran at the University of Manchester, said it was hard to assess Iran’s real intentions for its nuclear programme – whether it planned to produce nuclear weapons or not – because the programme had been ‘jostled’ around by different governments and state organisations, which lacked a cohesive strategy.

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Iran’s refusal on concessions renews the threats of war

Fordow

Fordow Uranium Enrichment Facility, North of Qom. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Podnox

Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, wrote an op-ed in The National published on 10 October examining how a prolonged stalemate in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme could lead to a strike.

Iran is ‘so far from making concessions’, writes Fitzpatrick, that there has not yet been any need for the E3+3 (France, Germany and the UK plus Russia, China and the US) to grapple with the issue of sanctions relief.

As a confidence-building measure, the E3+3 asked Iran to stop production of 20% enriched uranium, ship out the accumulated 20 per cent product and shut down its enrichment facility at Fordow.  Iran is only willing to consider stopping 20% enrichment, in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions. The trade from Iran’s point of view has been characterised by former Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian as amounting to ‘diamonds for peanuts‘. But for the E3+3, what Iran is offering is similarly unpalatable: ‘With the lower level of enrichment, Iran could get to the bomb in only a slightly longer time than if it started with a 20 per cent product,’ writes Fitzpatrick.

A change in Iran’s position could be ‘too little, too late’. Sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, but there is not likely to be another meaningful meeting between the negotiating powers until after the US election – and it is possible concessions won’t be made until after Iran’s own presidential elections in June 2013, and even then, these may merely be tactical. If a new Iranian president isn’t ready to make a deal next year, Israel may attack.

Read the full article.


Obama and Ahmadinejad: Rhetoric at the UNGA

President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly. Photo Credit: UN

President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly. Photo Credit: UN Photo Library

By Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs

To my eyes, President Obama’s red line looks quite … red.

In front of the UN General Assembly yesterday, the president said the following:

And make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This is not new from the US President; last spring he started explicitly rejecting the idea that the United States could rely on a regime of containment against an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. I’m not sure it is correct that a nuclear-armed Iran couldn’t be contained, but it is pretty clearly the policy of the United States not to take the chance.

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Tehran’s nuclear balancing act

Tehran at sunrise, featuring the Miladi Tower.

Tehran at sunrise, featuring the Miladi Tower. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Afshin Rattansi

In an issue of the Security Times that coincided with the Cyber Security Summit in Bonn, Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, examined Iran’s nuclear balancing act.

There is no diplomatic solution for Iran’s nuclear ambitions yet, and while Iran has been somewhat hampered by sanctions and attacks designed to derail its nuclear program, it continues to enrich uranium. As the IAEA reported, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile grew to nearly 7,000kg. Iran is still months away from being able to make a weapons, but ‘the problem is that the redline separating nuclear-capable from nuclear-armed will become less clear as Iran’s enrichment program makes further advances,’ writes Fitzpatrick.

Diplomatic talks by the EU3+3 have failed. Differing perceptions of the threat by Israel and the US may have delayed more decisive plans, but in this atmosphere of uncertainty,  an Israeli strike cannot be ruled out. For now, a military attack still seems like the worst option, as well as counterproductive – because it may only derail Iran’s progress by two to three years, and ultimately accelerate Iran’s ambitions for a weapon. But Iran should not push its luck. The US seems to be unwilling to join Israel in an attack now, but could very well change its position in the near future. If Western intelligence agencies begin to perceive more of a threat, they could strike – which could lead to war.

Read the full article.


Iran’s nuclear programme: situation not yet hopeless

Senior Iranian leaders at the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran

As predicted, the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contributed to a push in Israel and parts of the US for preventive military action. Since May, Iran has installed more than a thousand new centrifuges in the underground facility at Fordow, doubling the number there since the last IAEA report in May.

In a pre-emptive move of their own, White House officials gave their own spin to the latest developments several days before the IAEA released the report. While not underplaying their concern over Iran’s continued defiance, the Obama team noted that the new numbers are not a ‘game changer’. The new centrifuges are not (yet) being used for enrichment and the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has not grown since May because half of it has been converted to an oxide form for use in fuel plates.

The danger posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is heightening incrementally: the numbers grow arithmetically, not by orders of magnitude. Mark Fitzpatrick, in a new article for Al-Monitor questions the wisdom of a war over a 10% increase in centrifuges. A proportionate response would be to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, which has so far not made good use of diplomacy.

Read the full article at Al-Monitor


What is Iran hiding at Parchin?

Map of Iran nuclear sites © IISS. Click for larger view

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors on their second visit to Iran in a month have been turned away from a military base in Parchin, immediately raising questions about the activities being carried out there.

The IAEA last had access to Parchin, about 30km southeast of Tehran, in early 2005. According to the 2011 IISS dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities: ‘The site contained test bunkers and diagnostic buildings, which US officials suspected might be used for high-explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development. Such tests are commonly used to develop the high-explosive lens system for implosion designs [ie. bombs].

‘In January 2005, Iran allowed the IAEA to visit and take samples at one of four locations in Parchin to which it had requested access. In March 2005, the IAEA reported that it “saw no relevant dual-use equipment or materials in the location visited”. Environmental samples taken at the selected site did not indicate the presence of nuclear materials.’

The director of the IISS non-proliferation programme, Mark Fitzpatrick, has said today that it is ‘very disappointing’ for the IAEA to come back from Tehran with nothing to show for it for a second time – and an ‘own goal’ by the Iranians.

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