Iran Again Suspends Uranium Enrichment. Another Last-Ditch Trick to Dodge Sanctions?

Iran agreed Sunday, Nov. 20, to suspend work on the conversion of raw uranium to UF6 gas at its high-speed centrifuge plant in Isfahan resumption – according to debkafile‘s exclusive sources in Tehran and Moscow. The announcement looks suspiciously like one of the Islamic Republic’s usual stratagems ahead of yet another UN nuclear watchdog board meeting in Vienna to consider its nuclear case.
debkafile‘s sources stress that this announcement does not mean Tehran has given up processing uranium for military use, but it has rather beaten a tactical and temporary retreat in the face of the compromise agreed by the US and Russian presidents in Busan, South Korea, Saturday, Nov. 19. These sources stress that the Bush-Putin plan is not aimed at rescuing Iran from the hot water of Security Council penalties but just the reverse – to draw Moscow into abandoning its resistance to sanctions.
Under the plan proposed by Russia and endorsed by Britain, France and Germany, Tehran would be permitted to continue to convert raw uranium into gas – but not on its territory or by using the high-speed centrifuges whose technology Iran belatedly admitted purchasing from the Pakistani nuclear black marketeer A.Q. Khan in 1987.
An enrichment facility would instead be built in Russia. Iran would control management and financial interests – but not the level to which the uranium is enriched,
This formulation is important because –
1. It would keep Iran away from the technical control of the enrichment process, the quantities yielded and level of enrichment. This way, the United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain would be sure the process never reaches weapons grade.
2. Iran would have to foot the bill for the Russian-based enrichment facility.
According to debkafile sources, Bush is banking on Iran refusing to accept this impingement on its sovereignty and national honor. The only issue on which all the Iranian leadership stands united is on the Islamic Republic’s inalienable right to enrich uranium. The ayatollahs are divided on how far to take this process, at loggerheads on three main issues:
A. How to proceed from the point at which Iran has processed sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.
B. How much of the equipment should be built and stocked for the manufacture of a bomb in the short term. Should only sections be completed or the entire manufacturing plant built and stored in secret underground facilities, to await the government’s strategic decision on the final stage?
C. Also in dispute among top Iranian policy-makers is when to begin computer testing of the weapon.
The discussions in Tehran are pressing. The Iranians are getting close to accumulating the quantities of enriched uranium needed for a bomb.
The American and Russian leaders may be presumed to know how close the Iranians are to this goal. Therefore, the Russian compromise, which would have been useful in the 2004 when Iran’s nuclear program was less advanced, is far less significant at present. So what was the point of making it?
debkafile‘s Moscow sources disclose that, according to the thinking of the US president, Tehran’s inevitable refusal to go along with Russian project must undermine its credibility in the eyes of Putin too. He could no longer credit as genuine Iran’s claims that its nuclear project is solely designed for the manufacture of electricity and for peaceful purposes.
Consequently, by cutting the ground from under a Russian veto against UN Security Council economic sanctions against Iran, Bush has brought this penalty closer to fruition. The last major impediment to this resolution is one outstanding veto-holder, China, which has yet to be persuaded to go along with international sanctions against Iran.
All the parties are perfectly aware of the Islamic Republic’s shaky political and economic situation and the regime’s vulnerability to sanctions and isolation. The shock might even threaten the ayatollahs’ grip on power. Protracted economic penalties could ignite the vital spark of a broad popular uprising against the government in the streets of Iran’s cities.
Tehran accordingly lost no time in countering the Bush-backed Russian compromise by the gesture of offering to suspend work on uranium conversion to gas in Isfahan. However, in the same breath, the majlis ordered the government to bar nuclear facilities to UN inspectors if sanctions were approved in New York. Iran’s rulers always have one last maneuver up their sleeves to keep their nuclear program afloat while ducking penalties.

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