x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Iran's expanding nuclear capacity

The UN atomic agency's latest report says Iran has increased its nuclear fuel production rate and number of centrifuges to a level where it has enough fuel, if further enriched, for weapons production. US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, says the primary objective for the Obama administration in engaging Iran diplomatically is "to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state."

In an interview on American television on Sunday, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that the primary objective for the Obama administration in engaging Iran diplomatically is "to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state." In the interview, Mrs Clinton was reminded of a statement she had made during the 2008 US presidential campaign when she had said: "I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States." When pressed to confirm whether her statement at that time is reflected in current US policy Mrs Clinton said: "I think it is US policy to the extent that we have alliances and understandings with a number of nations. They may not be formal, as it is with Nato, but I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that, were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation." But when asked specifically whether that would be retaliation by the United States, she would go no further than saying: "Well, I think there would be retaliation." Mrs Clinton's remarks came soon after the International Atomic Energy Agency released its latest report on Iran's nuclear programme. The New York Times reported: "A week before Iran's presidential election, atomic inspectors reported Friday that the country has sped up its production of nuclear fuel and increased its number of installed centrifuges to 7,200 - more than enough, weapon experts said, to make fuel for up to two nuclear weapons a year, if the country decided to use its facilities for that purpose. "In its report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it had found no evidence that any of the fuel in Iran's possession had been enriched to the purity needed to make a bomb, a step that would take months. "But it said that the country had blocked its inspectors for more than a year now from visiting a heavy-water reactor capable of being modified to produce plutonium that could be used in weapons. It also said that Tehran had continued to refuse to answer the agency's questions about reports of Iranian studies obtained by Western intelligence agencies that suggest that its scientists had performed research on the design of a nuclear warhead." At the same time, Reuters reported: "Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, said the report made clear again there was no evidence of any diversion of nuclear materials or pursuit of military aims and also that the agency was able to carry out its supervisory work. " 'This is in fact a clear and categorical document in demonstration of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities,' he said in remarks broadcast by state television. " 'We will not suspend our nuclear activities and we will not, at the same time, suspend our cooperation with the agency,' Soltanieh said. "Tehran says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity and has repeatedly rejected Western demands to halt uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes. "But Iran has stonewalled an IAEA investigation into alleged past research into bomb-making, calling US intelligence about it forged, and continues to limit the scope of IAEA inspections." Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Powerful reformists and conservatives within Iran's elite have joined forces to wage an unprecedented behind-the-scenes campaign to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, worried that he is driving the country to the brink of collapse with populist economic policies and a confrontational stance toward the West. "The prominent figures have put their considerable efforts behind the candidacy of reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who they believe has the best chance of defeating the hard-line Ahmadinejad in the presidential election Friday and charting a new course for the country. "They have used the levers of government to foil attempts by Ahmadinejad to secure funds for populist giveaways and to permit freewheeling campaigning that has benefited Mousavi. State-controlled television agreed to an unheard-of series of live debates, and the powerful Council of Guardians, which thwarted the reformist wave of the late 1990s, rejected a ballot box manoeuvre by the president that some saw as a prelude to attempted fraud. "Some called it a realignment of Iranian domestic politics from its longtime rift between reformists and conservatives to one that pits pragmatists on both sides against radicals such as Ahmadinejad." The Wall Street Journal said: "Challengers to Mr Ahmadinejad, including Mr Mousavi, have campaigned on improving relations with the US and finding areas of common interest. These rivals have indicated that they will moderate many of Mr Ahmadinejad's most controversial positions, such as his threats to destroy Israel. These opponents are also proposing alternative economic programs that could see Tehran lessening its financial support for Hizbollah and Hamas. "Still, all these candidates have pledged during the campaign to continue Iran's nuclear programme and, in particular, its enrichment of uranium. And in Iran's clerical political system, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the ultimate arbiter on foreign-policy issues with a vote over the president. Mr Khamenei has repeatedly called for the expansion of Iran's nuclear activities, though he has publicly stated he would support dialogue with Washington if President Barack Obama shifts US foreign policy. "Tehran, subsequently, could remain at odds with Washington over the nuclear issue even if Mr Ahmadinejad is voted out of office this month. Obama administration officials say it is unclear whether US cooperation with Iran in areas such as stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan could eventually lead to some common ground on the nuclear issue. "Indeed, even as Iran has continued to enrich uranium in recent weeks, Tehran has also offered some encouraging signals to the West, US officials say. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki responded to Washington's call for assistance in stabilising Pakistan by pledging more than $300 million to Islamabad at a donors conference in Tokyo. Iran also surprised some US diplomats by pledging in May to dispatch naval ships to the waters off North Africa to guard against Somali piracy." In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mohsen Rezai, another candidate in the upcoming Iranian presidential election, was asked how he would resolve the disagreement between Iran and the West over the nuclear programme. He said: "We should create a public stock company shared with European and Western companies, but with Iran having controlling shares. That way they can feel confident our programme is peaceful and we can keep on making our scientific progress, so that everything is under the nose of the Western companies while the management is in Iranian hands."

pwoodward@thenational.ae