Iran Deal-Breaker Report Gives Israel Hope

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Manna from heaven for Israel and Iranophobic neoconservatives in Washington, who are working overtime to scuttle a nuclear deal with Iran, has come with a new "scientific" report exploding on the US media scene, which claims that Iran is only a month away from acquiring the bomb. That eclipses the Obama administration's previous statement in September that Iran is "one year or more" away from this critical capability.

The lavish and uncritical reception of this Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) report by outlets from the New York Times to USA TODAY, to CNN and all major US television networks, provided a timely scientific counterpart to intense lobbying pressure by Israel and its powerful supporters to prevent any nuclear deal with Iran that would leave Iran's centrifuge infrastructure intact. [1]

The report's main finding - that advanced centrifuge technology has allowed Iran has cut the "breakout" timeline so short that it can manufacture weapons-grade uranium within a month if it chooses - has given ammunition to Israel and its insistence that international sanctions on Iran must remain place until all of Iran's centrifuges are dismantled.

Citing Iran's some 19,000 centrifuges, including the more advanced generation of IR-2 centrifuges, the report estimates that "today, Iran could break out most quickly using a three-step process with its installed centrifuges and its stockpiles of LEU [low-enriched uranium] as of August 2013. In this case, Iran could produce one SQ [25 kilograms of contained uranium 235] in as little as approximately 1 to1.6 months, if it uses all its near 20%-LEU hexafluoride stockpile. Using only 3.5% LEU, Iran would need at least 1.9 to 2.2 months and could make approximately 4 SQs of WGU [weapons-grade uranium] using all its existing 3.5% LEU stockpile."

The result is, indeed, a de-emphasis on the importance of Iran's 20% uranium enrichment, which according to a senior Iran lawmaker, has been put on hold - important news given all the past stated Western concern that this level of enrichment puts Iran one big step closer to weapons-grade enrichment. That concern is practically reversed to the point of being called "irrelevant" and out of the equation by Israel and its Washington allies. They are now armed with a new "scientific " arsenal to try to knock down the White House's negotiation strategy with Iran.

ISIS founder David Albright enjoys access to the big US media and has been busy pushing the idea that in order to extend the time for any "breakout" potential on Iran's part, Tehran must agree to cut down the number of its centrifuges to half, ostensibly to lengthen the process to "six months". But, given Albright's own estimate, in the earlier reports (criticized by this author in January of this year) that claims with a mere 1,500-2000 centrifuges Iran can produce enough weapons-grade uranium within a year, even halving the total number of centrifuges would be alarming from the vantage point of Israel and its hawkish supporters, who are satisfied with nothing less than "zero centrifuges." (See Afrasiabi, US think tank fuels the Iran crisis, Asia Times Online, January 25, 2013).

Clearly, this report is politically biased, incoherent, and written with the sole purpose of throwing a monkey wrench in the delicate negotiation process, which is due to re-start in Geneva in early November. It is based on hypothetical "ifs" such as if Iran resorts to clandestine enrichment, which in a way discounts the report's own emphasis on the number of declared centrifuges. As stated by this author in the above-mentioned article, Albright and company simply fail to probe the question of whether or not Iran is marching at all toward weaponization, given the absence of even a shred of evidence, let alone any 'smoking gun' corroborating their hitherto unfounded suspicions.

Not only that, this report collides with the recent congressional testimony of James Clapper, who has assured his audience that in view of the present safeguard mechanisms in place at Iran's nuclear facilities, the US would be able to detect any military diversion "quickly." Apparently, Albright and company are less confident and more pessimistic about this and prefer to echo the hawkish neoconservatives, such as former US ambassador to UN, John Bolton, and his brainchild, United Against Nuclear Iran, who are at the forefront of incessant Iranphobia in the US.

Interestingly, the Albright-led report has been twisted by aspects of the US media, such as the CNN, conveniently overlooking the report's caution that "substantial time" is need to convert the weapons-grade uranium into a bomb; ie, a small and seemingly inconvenient fact that is brushed aside in favor of the alarmist news that Iran "is one month from the bomb".

USA TODAY, on the other hand, has gone as far as falsely claiming that international inspectors have been barred from certain "nuclear facilities" in Iran, which is a lie disproved by the various IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports indicating the occurrence of both regular and many short-notice inspections to all of Iran's declared nuclear facilities without any exception. In other words, the impression given by the US media that the underground facility known as Fordo is not under full-scope IAEA inspections - which was even hinted at by the US Secretary of State John Kerry in one of his press conferences abroad - is simply false. All that is required to debunk it is to leaf through the IAEA country reports on Iran.

Essentially, this means that the UN atomic agency has strong confidence in its ability to detect any diversion from the peaceful nuclear work "within days", if such a diversion ever occurs, not weeks or months, as indirectly suggested by Albright and company. This is made possible through IAEA surveillance cameras at the enrichment halls and a robust inspection system which Iran has declared willing to enhance by adopting the intrusive Additional Protocol, but only as part of a comprehensive deal with the "5 +1" nations (the UN Security Council's Permanent Five plus Germany).

Clearly, the report by ISIS, a self-described non-proliferation think tank, puts the deal for a compromised solution, whereby Iran would keep its fuel cycle intact at a low enrichment ceiling, in a "kill zone" by virtue of heightening concerns about the supposed "breakout" capability. Following the report's own logic, Iran has had this capability for roughly a decade.

The absence of any evidence of weaponization on Iran's part since 2003, confirmed by the 2007 US intelligence estimate on Iran, raises questions about the ISIS report's biased conclusions and recommendations. At the same time, it alerts us to the functional utility of science for a politics of coercion vis-a-vis Iran; that is, the fact that there is no such a thing as "value-free" science, especially counter-proliferation scientific studies which are released into a highly-charged environment.

Unsurprisingly, the Israeli media and Israeli Prime Minister's office have expressed a great deal of satisfaction at the latest ISIS report which has put the White House's propensity to a deal that falls short of scrapping Iran's entire enrichment capability on the defensive, thus acting as a deal-breaker.

Iran is adamant about its "red line" on its nuclear rights to enrich uranium. No matter how hard the latest quasi-scientific maneuver to torpedo a reasonable nuclear deal, its chances of getting accepted by Iran are zero.

Consequently, if the Obama administration fails to head off the new pressure levied in part through the release of such biased reports donning the appearance of pure science, then we are likely to witness the indefinite continuation of the Iran nuclear stalemate. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel would breathe a giant sigh of relief, and much as the rest of the world would be distraught that a potentially dangerous crisis with military dimensions could be derailed from the diplomatic track once again, this time by the servitude of science to politics.

*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) .  Afrasiabi is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction (2007), Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

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Source: Asia Times Online

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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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