So I did this posting on Thursday night, below, on how I perceive President Obama to be maneuvering Iran into a box, wherein it faced increasing chances of the ratcheting up of sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Then I went to bed and got on a plane the next morning and checked in late Friday to find that Obama had announced that Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that they had begun construction on a second nuclear enrichment facility inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom not far from the capital of Tehran.
Obama alleged that Iran had declined to honor its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to inform the IAEA immediately when it began such construction, and that the facility was of a size (3000 centrifuges) that it could not plausibly be intended for the peaceful enrichment of uranium to run reactors for electricity generation. (50,000 centrifuges enriching to 2-5% or so would be required for the latter). On the other hand, if you were intensively enriching to make a bomb, 3000 if used over and over again on the same uranium stock could get it up to the 90% enriched level typically nowadays needed for a proper nuclear warhead.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shot back that no nuclear enrichment has been carried out at Qom and that Iran is only required by the NPT to inform the IAEA 6 months before such a site goes operational, which is precisely what he alleges Iran has done. He underlined that Iran was the one who told the IAEA about the facility, and fully intended that it should be inspected by UN inspectors. He denied that the facility’s size said anything about its intended function. As an engineer and mathematician himself, he taunted Obama, saying that the American president had no idea what he was talking about in relating size to function.
Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour of the Guardian report that Iran was forced to acknowledge the site because Western intelligence had picked it up in satellite photographs and then gathered information on it by other means. Ahmadinejad is correct in saying that by the letter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has not done anything illegal, insofar as the site has not gone operational and Iran is giving 6 months notice. However, the Iranian government had additionally pledged to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2006 that it would alert the UN to any new new nuclear facility immediately. So Iran may not have broken the law but it has broken its word.
For Iran to break its word on this matter is, moreover, as serious as for it to break the law. (This self-destructive and overly cocky way of proceeding in Tehran was the subject of my column for Salon this week, asking if Ahmadinejad is intent on turning his country into an international pariah.) Iran’s enemies, who want it put under severe economic sanctions of the sort that turned Iraq into a fourth-world country, and ideally would like to see the regime in Tehran overthrown– if necessary by military means– will point to the secret development of a new enrichment site as a sign of Tehran’s essential deviousness. It will be alleged that if there is one secret site there may be more. It will be alleged that you cannot trust anything Tehran says, and so its denials should be disregarded and action should be taken.
The thrust of my piece Friday morning was that Obama was tightening the noose on Iran. I was able to see that without knowing exactly why. I had wondered whether it had to do with the regime’s neo-authoritarian direction as of the contested elections in June.
The revelations on Friday do not change everything, though Neoconservatives will hype them as though they do. Iran has been less than forthcoming, not for the first time, but it may just be within the letter of the law. And, if it allows thorough inspections of the Qom site, it is hard to see how it could produce tons of U-235 there surreptitiously (the inspectors would immediately detect that). I share President Obama’s puzzlement as to what in the world they want a 3000- centrifuge site for.
But the law and the facts of the matter are less important than the determination of Europe and the US that Iran not develop even the Japan option. And this Qom facility and the delay in notification are powerful political arrows in the sanctions quiver. You wonder if Russia’s Putin and China’s Hu might not now acquiesce in tightened sanctions.
Since some of my readers appear not to know my record of writing on these matters and seem to confuse analysis with punditry, I should say that I am personally opposed to further sanctions on Iran unless they are very carefully targeted so as not to harm ordinary people. Regimes running oil states are not very vulnerable to sanctions. Moreover, sanctions against Iran are deeply unfair if Israel, India and Pakistan are held harmless for ignoring the NPT altogether and for developing their bombs. In fact, the way the UNSC is proceeding against Iran is such as to destroy the NPT, because any country in its right mind would prefer to withdraw from it and just do as it pleases, a la Israel, than to submit to it and have that submission be a pretext for sanctions, even where the signatory country had done nothing contrary to the letter of the law.
Finally, I leave readers with a caveat. There may be less to the Qom plant than meets the eye. Beware the Hype.
End/ (Not Continued)