There is no real question about the impermanence of Iran’s uranium enrichment suspension. Yet it was deemed credible enough to win the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “confirmation” on November 29 of Tehran’s full compliance with its suspension pledge and passage of a soft resolution letting the Islamic republic off the hook of UN Security Council sanctions.
The very same day, Iran’s nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani said triumphantly that Iran would never give up its “right to nuclear power” and that its freeze on uranium enrichment was “only temporary” – meant to last months, not years.
Some intelligence assessments say weeks rather than months is the more realistic.
And even that limited gesture appears to be meaningless.
In an interview to The New York Times of December 1, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei confessed that Iran has not responded to repeated requests for visits to two suspect sites at Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran and Lavizan II northeast of capital.
(Both secret sites were named in previous DNW issues).
Iran’s hole-and-corner behavior on these sites strongly suggests it is working clandestinely on its weapons program, in breach of the very deal with three European powers that was approved by the nuclear watchdog in Vienna this week.
In Tehran, radical voices were raised this week in sanctimonious protest against their government’s acceptance of the fleeting suspension of nuclear enrichment.
“How is it possible that (Israeli prime minister Ariel) Sharon has the bomb and we don’t?” asked Gholamreza Hassani, chief cleric in the western Iranian city of Urmieh.
Mullah Hassani, whose Friday prayer sermons are circulated across the country, said: “Nuclear power should be taken away from the United States and deposited in the hands of an Islamic leader such as Ayatollah Khamenei. If they take away our nuclear weapons, we will die like the Iraqis.”
After Iran signed the “Paris Agreement” with France, Germany and Britain in early November providing for the uranium enrichment freeze, Tehran promised no more than a three-month time limit. This period was needed to negotiate a cooperation deal with the EU for the promised transfer of European nuclear technology “for peaceful purposes” to Iran as compensation for the suspension. Rouhani, who is also secretary of Iran’s national security council, said this was a test period for Europe to make good on its promise of nuclear technology and also time enough to foil any American plan to refer Iran’s nuclear program to the UN Security Council for sanctions.
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei also reiterated this week that Iran would never give up its right to recycle nuclear fuel instead of depending on foreign sources to meet the requirements of the six to 10 nuclear power reactors the Islamic Republic wants to build. To this day, Tehran has not signed its agreement with Russia for the supply of nuclear fuel for the reactor at Bushehr, scheduled to go on line in 16 months.
The suspension cover-up
Iran’s demand to exempt 20 centrifuges from its uranium enrichment freeze was no tactical ruse to extort concessions as the Europeans believed, but based on good strategic logic: Tehran needs to keep P-2 centrifuge units running during the three-month timeout to ease the process of returning tens of thousands of centrifuges to full operation when Khamenei gives the order.
Iran is working on the premise that even if the suspension is extended beyond three months, the 20 functioning units will facilitate interim research and development into the independent production of nuclear fuel.
Iran also expects the IAEA’s 2005 conference to add a tough amendment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty that will forbid countries not yet able to produce their own nuclear fuel from attaining this self-sufficiency. For Iran, this would mean more than a billion dollars down the drain in investments sunk into the construction of uranium enrichment plants.
In the event, Iran dropped its demand to keep the 20 centrifuges running because, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources, it is busy secretly assembling about 1,200 centrifuges in various stages of production for its nuclear weapons program.
The Iranians now have two problems to solve: how to hide their assembly line and, second, how to deal with the total cessation of work at the Isfahan plant where UF6 gas, a critical element in uranium enrichment, was supposed to be manufactured with the help of 37 tons of yellowcake especially purchased for the facility.
Intelligence officials believe that one problem has been solved by activating an undisclosed underground plant nearby. Meanwhile, also unbeknownst to IAEA inspectors, Iran has accumulated 2.5 tons of UF6 in storage.
Ali Larjani, a Khamenei adviser and possible presidential candidate, said Wednesday, Dec. 1: “We invested millions of dollars in our nuclear installations and the world cannot expect us to keep this investment idle for long.”