Secretary of State Hillary Clinton engaged in some fearmongering on Iran on Sunday on Candy Crowley’s CNN magazine show, State of the Union. Here is how the exchange went:
‘CROWLEY: If you were to say to the American people, this country is the most dangerous to Americans and to the U.S., where is that country?
CLINTON: You know, Candy, in terms of a country, obviously a nuclear-armed country like North Korea or Iran pose both a real or a potential threat.
CROWLEY: And you’re convinced Iran has nuclear…
CLINTON: No, no, but we believe that their behavior certainly is evidence of their intentions . . .
Kudos to Crowley for not letting that ridiculous assertion pass. To put Iran in the same category as North Korea in 2010 and to make it among the primary ‘threats’ challenging the United States is just bizarre. The US intelligence establishment continues to doubt that Iran has or wants a nuclear weapons program. Tehran does have a nuclear enrichment program, which is permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran allows United Nations inspections of it nuclear facilities. Although Iran is not as transparent as the UN International Atomic Energy Agency would like, there is no dispositive evidence of a weapons program. For the Secretary of State to frame Iran as she did is just muddled or dishonest.
Clinton again repeated that the new facility near Qom is evidence that Iran intends to build a bomb. But then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed Elbaradei was invited to inspect it in late October and found a ‘hole in a mountain’ with no equipment or uranium on-site. The facility is too small to be an efficient producer of High Enriched Uranium for bombs, and is more likely intended to serve as a repository of equipment and know-how that cannot be bombed by the Israelis or Americans.
It is a trick of the Washington Establishment to scare apparently easily frightened Americans into a conviction that some small, poor, third world country is a dire threat to the most massively funded and armed military in the world. Repeating falsehoods is one way the Big Lie is implanted, that then allows US belligerence to be unquestioned at home.
Clinton did go on to defend the Obama administration’s attempts to engage North Korea and Iran (again, placing them on the same plane), but not on the grounds of success in negotiations. Rather, she argued that attempting to engage the problem countries made it easier, when the negotiations failed, to convince countries such as Russia and China (in N. Korea’s case) or Russia (in the case of Iran) to ratchet up sanctions at the UN. But if all engagement accomplishes is to make imposition of sanctions easier, it isn’t really engagement, it is just posturing. Here is the video:
News from Iran will be spun by the US press to justify Clinton’s fears. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made headlines Sunday by directing Iran’s (regularly inspected) nuclear research establishment at Natanz near Isfahan to begin attempting to enrich uranium to 19.75% so that that country will eventually have the ability to supply its own fuel for its sole reactor that produces medical isotopes for treating, e.g., cancer. Any uranium enriched to 19.75% and fed through the reactor is transformed into isotopes and then used up.
Note that Iran is openly announcing this decision and is informing the International Atomic Energy Agency of it, in accordance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nor is it something they’ll be able to accomplish soon.
But if all Iran does is enrich to 19.75% (the upper level of low-enriched uranium) for the isotope reactor and then use up the isotopes, this step is the least dangerous one it could take.
Iran in the past bought the enriched uranium for the isotope reactor from Argentina. So it would be nothing new if Iran came to possess that grade of LEU. Iran’s government is horrible, but it is less dictatorial than that of the Argentinean generals of the 1970s and early 1980s who developed Buenos Aires’ nuclear enrichment capabilities to the point where it really could have made a bomb. But the country foreswore any such ambitions despite its knowledge. Iran likewise denies it wants a bomb, and there is no good evidence to the contrary. It is just that Washington adored the far rightwing generals in Argentina who made people disappear in the thousands, and didn’t care if they had the Bomb. And much of Washington is determined to lie about what is known of Iran’s capabilities and intentions.
The list of other countries capable of producing LEU of 19.75% includes Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Holland, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There would be nothing extraordinary about Iran joining this list, and none of the others on it except N. Korea is being sanctioned– and that is for constructing a bomb, which Iran is not doing. Argentina was sanctioned neither for enriching to 19.75% nor for selling that stock of LEU to Iran! And South Korea was never sanctioned for secretly enriching to 77%, near bomb grade, something Iran has never been accused of.
It is not dangerous for Iran to produce low enriched uranium, whether for reactor fuel for the nuclear electric plants it is building or for its small medical isotopes reactor (given to it in 1969 by the United States).
It would be dangerous if Iran determined to enrich to 95% to make a bomb. In order to do so, it would have to evade all US electronic surveillance, withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and throw out the UN inspectors. No country being actively and continuously inspected by the IAEA has ever developed an atomic bomb. The US National Security Agency can hear a walkie-talkie conversation in the jungles of Guatemala, and for Iran to hide a decision to make a bomb would be very difficult. The US has also been successful in enticing Iranian nuclear physicists into defecting, with insider knowledge and documents. The idea that Iran could conceal a major enrichment facility somewhere is far-fetched, because enrichment is a water- and electricity-intensive activity that can be detected. Even just the building activity for the new small facility near Qom showed up on US satellite surveillance.
Does the step Ahmadinejad announced on Sunday make sense for Iran? The answer is yes. Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation writes that:
‘Iran has developed plans to use naturally occurring uranium as a “target” for producing an important medical diagnostic isotope of molybdenum, an isotope whose decay product can be used to scan for cancers in bone, heart, lung, and kidney. Iran already imports a sizable quantity of this pharmacological radionuclide but producing it indigenously would not only save Iran a considerable amount of money each year, much more than it would pay for the fuel for the reactor it would use to produce it, but also allow a more efficient use of this short lived isotope by preventing the decay of nearly half of the amount bought before it even reached the patients. Perhaps the biggest incentive indigenous production of 99Mo in Iran would be the encouragement of its entire nuclear medicine infrastructure; an infrastructure that might right the imbalance of medical isotopes into this developing country relative to other nations.” ‘
Iran is already producing low enriched uranium for reactor fuel. That it has decided to produce a higher grade of it for its medical infrastructure is neither surprising nor a cause for panic. You’ll know if Iran decides to build a bomb. It will throw out the inspectors or refuse them access, including to places the US detects a huge electromagnetic signature but which Iran declines to declare as facilities. None of that has happened. Until then, the world should relax.
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