Iran to expand 20-pc uranium enrichment at Fordo with new centrifuges
New cascades of centrifuges are being installed at Iran’s Fordo nuclear underground facility raising the total to 3,000 machines. All the 800 machines operating at present are devoted to the 20-percent refinement of uranium, a grade just short of bomb material. This was disclosed by Western diplomatic sources Thursday, May 17, at the same time as Washington sources reported that the Obama administration had consented to Iran producing low-grade 5-percent enriched uranium in their secret direct dialogue.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced earlier this year that Iran would soon have 3,000 centrifuges spinning at Fordo, one-third of its ultimate goal of 9,000. Already, Tehran has accumulated a stock of more than 110 kilograms of 20-percent uranium, enough to fuel several nuclear bombs. That stock will soon be doubled or tripled by expanded production.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that by installing new centrifuges in Fordo, Tehran is cynically mocking President Barack Obama who defined the main objectives of their back-channel dialogue as being to halt Iranian production of 20-percent enriched uranium and shut down nuclear activity at Fordo. Our Iranian sources claim Tehran never signed on to those goals. It was only tacitly understood between them that the status quo at Fordo would be maintained for the duration of talks.
In other words, Iran was permitted to continue enriching uranium not just to the 5-percent level but to 20-percent military grade in order to keep the dialogue afloat.
But now, by installing the new centrifuges in Fordo, Iran is trying to use that dialogue as a foot through the door for turning tacit, provisional American tolerance of highly-enriched uranium production taking place during negotiations into absolute US acceptance of Iran’s right to keep going unhindered and so attain the status of a nuclear power.
An eagle eye is therefore needed to stay on top of Iran’s negotiating tactics, say debkafile’s military sources.
Only this week, Iranian officials admitted they were engaged in moving “step after step until the objective is achieved.” Media and other figures in Iran have hailed the US and other world powers’ consent to Iran producing low level (5 percent) enriched uranium in unlimited quantities as a huge feat gained by years of tremendous effort and the prelude to their step-by-step tactic eventually yielding more achievements.
Those comments clearly indicate that Tehran was not satisfied with what it had achieved so far and wanted a lot more.
In the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue of May 11, our sources reported that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had earlier this month posted an unequivocal message to President Obama saying that, no matter what, Iran would not shut the Fordo underground nuclear plant.
The Iranian leader offered to sign and uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s additional protocol for on-site spot searches, substantially increase visits by the nuclear watchdog and permit the installation of cameras and other monitoring devices in various sections of the Fordo facility – provided that economic sanctions were lifted.
The White House has not yet answered Khamenei’s note, say our Washington sources.
In view of all these developments, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke Thursday, May 17, in a CNN interview in Washington, of his apprehension that the negotiations between Iran and the major powers would soon lead to an agreement with Iran that will enable Tehran "to deceive the whole world" and continue building a nuclear weapon.
Diplomacy, he said, would not contain Iran. “We are now facing – I don't like the use of words like catastrophe that you have mentioned. It's not about catastrophe. It's about a real challenge to the whole world, not just to Israel. I think that a nuclear Iran will change the whole landscape of the Middle East. We have to do something to block it from happening, be it these sanctions or the negotiations or something else.”
Barak gave no indication of how Israel would respond to these developments, even though they are already in train.