Iran weeks away from weapons-grade uranium

Production of Iran's first batch of uranium yellowcake marked just one of Tehran's two nuclear leaps forward ahead of the resumption of its nuclear talks with the Six Powers in Geneva Monday, Dec. 6, after a 14-month interruption.

The second breakthrough was not made public. debkafile's military and intelligence sources disclose that after a huge effort, Iran was able to sit down with those powers having piled up 23.5 kilos of 19.75 percent enriched uranium. By January or early February, this amount can be topped to the full 28.2 kilos needed for producing 90 percent weapons grade uranium for fueling a nuclear bomb or warhead.

The first batch of yellowcake, announced Sunday over state TV by Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi, who leads his delegation the Geneva talks, comes from the Gachin mine in southern Iran. Sent to Isfahan for conversion, it enables Iran to produce its own raw material for the uranium powder used in the process of creating nuclear fuel and is no longer depends on imported ore.

"Enemies and ill-wishers have always tried to create despair and disappointment among our youth, academicians, engineers and our nation, but today we witness the delivery of the first batch of yellowcake which is produced inside the country," Salehi said.

Despite the six-day shutdown of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant from Nov. 16-22, due to an invasion by the Stuxnet malworm and the serious injury suffered by Prof. Fereydoun Abbasi, Director of Centrifuge Operations, the Iranian program has managed to come within touching distance of its goal: It is only 4.7 kilos short of the 28.2 kilos of 19.75 percent enriched uranium needed for going into weapons-grade production. The Iranians need no more than a few weeks, up to early February at the latest, to reach that goal.

Those two achievements have placed Iran in a strong bargaining position in the Geneva talks with the Five Permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, our sources report, compensating for the sanctions-induced weakness Obama administration tacticians had hoped for.

It turns out, according to our sources, that the sanctions the UN, US and other nations had clamped down on Iran this year acted as a sharp spur to its nuclear progress rather than slowing it down. Salehi arrived in Geneva with enough clout to lay down an ultimatum: If Tehran so chooses, he can give the world powers the option of recognizing the legitimacy of Iran's nuclear program and its right to enrich uranium, or risk a decision by its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to give the order in six to eight weeks' time for enrichment to go forward to weapons grade. Within a short time Iran will have reached the threshold of bomb or nuclear warhead production.
Since Salehi's opposite numbers in the Geneva dialogue can be presumed to be au fait with their national intelligence agencies' updates, they may try and drag the negotiations out for as long as they can in the hope of dissuading Tehran from arming itself with a nuclear weapon. On the other hand, procrastination won't stop Iran from continuing processing up to the entire 28.2 kilos amount of 19.75-enriched uranium needed to reach the threshold of weapons production. And at that point, Khamenei will have the whip hand over the West.
All this adds up to the failure of America's long effort to stop Iran attaining a nuclear bomb capability by non-military means. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for his part, will have to face up to falling down completely on his solemn, oft-repeated vow to never allow the Islamic Republic acquire nuclear arms.
His absorption in the last few days in leading the international battle against  the big wildfire laying the central Israeli hills of Mt. Carmel to waste and creating an international airborne firefighting force has made enough waves at home to keep Iran's relentless nuclear breakthroughs away from public notice.

Iran's ability to produce its own yellowcake for conversion at Isfahan offers Tehran a second route to a nuclear weapons-capability. According to debkafile's military sources, Iran can now manage without the fuel rods it is contracted to return to Russia from the Bushehr nuclear reactor, because the uranium powder can be used for making homemade rods – both to fuel nuclear reactor cores and produce plutonium, the alternative to enriched uranium for weapons-grade fuel.

Iran no longer depends on imported materials to move forward at speed toward an N-bomb on both self-sufficient tracks –unhindered by sanctions.

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