x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iran to expand its nuclear capabilities

After declaring Iran will construct 10 new enrichment facilities, President Ahmadinejad now says it will enrich uranium to 20 per cent purity, rejecting an earlier proposal of sending low-enriched uranium for conversion in Russia and France. In an arrangement initially agreed upon in October, Iran was to have delivered the bulk of its low-enriched stockpile to Russia and France and in return receive fuel rods for its small Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech broadcast live on state television on Wednesday said that Iran will itself enrich uranium up to 20 per cent purity. In an arrangement initially agreed upon in October, Iran was to have delivered the bulk of its low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia and France and in return receive fuel rods for its small Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes. Mr Ahamadinejad now says the Islamic republic can complete the enrichment process on its own soil. "The Iranian nation will by itself make the 20 per cent (nuclear) fuel (enriched uranium) and whatever it needs," he said, speaking from Isfahan. In a challenge to Israel, the only nuclear-armed power in the region, the Iranian president said there was not a "damn thing" they could do about Iran's enrichment programme. "The Zionist regime is nothing. Even its masters cannot do a damn thing," he said. Hossein Aryan at RFE/RL said: "The diplomatic standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions has grown more intense since President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced publicly on November 29 that his government intends to build 10 new sites to enrich uranium to supply nuclear power plants that will increase the country's annual generating capacity by 20,000 megawatts over the next 20 years. "He explained that in order to achieve this, Iran will need to install 500,000 centrifuges at the planned facilities to produce 250 to 300 tons of nuclear fuel annually. "Ahmadinejad's surprise announcement came two days after an International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) resolution that criticised Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment and secretly building an enrichment facility near Qom, the Fardow site. The resolution demanded the immediate suspension of further work at Fardow. "Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, blamed the West for the decision to build the additional new enrichment facilities. Salehi said it was the IAEA resolution that 'prompted the government to approve the plan'." The Associated Press said: "Iran's announcement of plans to build 10 more uranium enrichment facilities is largely bluster after a strong rebuke from the UN's nuclear agency, analysts said Monday. Nonetheless, the defiance is fueling calls among Western allies for new punitive sanctions to freeze Iran's nuclear programme. "US and European officials were swift to condemn the plans, warning that Iran risked sinking ever deeper into isolation. Iran responded that it felt forced to move forward with the plans after the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution Friday demanding that it halt all enrichment activities. "Iran's bold announcement Sunday appears to be largely impossible to achieve as long as sanctions continue to throw up roadblocks and force Iran to turn to black markets and smuggling for nuclear equipment, said nuclear expert David Albright. " 'They can't build those plants. There's no way,' he said. "They have sanctions to overcome, they have technical problems. They have to buy things overseas ... and increasingly it's all illegal.'" At The Moscow Times, Alexander Shumilin noted: "Iran has notched up its level of confrontation in dealing with the outside world over the past weeks - not only with the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, but also with neighboring oil-rich Arab monarchies. In the process, it has created problems for Russian diplomacy as well. The more deadlocked that negotiations become over Tehran's nuclear programme, the greater the likelihood that Israel will ultimately resort to a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. "This possibility has put tremendous pressure on Iran's ruling circle of mullahs. Their natural defensive response has been to make an emphatic appeal to Russia to deliver the S-300 surface-to-air missile system that it promised Iran in an agreement that the two countries signed in December 2005. "But Russia is in no hurry to deliver the S-300, pointing out that the contract does not specify a specific deadline for delivery. Following a hasty visit to the Foreign Ministry, the Iranian ambassador to Russia announced that Moscow would definitely deliver the sought-after missile system within two months, but the Kremlin remains silent." Agence France-Presse reported: "Russia will not block new sanctions against Iran if the international community agrees on such a response to Tehran's new enrichment plans, a Russian diplomatic source said on Tuesday. " 'We do not plan to remain in isolation, if there is a consensus on sanctions. We will not remain to one side,' the diplomat told reporters in Moscow on condition of anonymity. " 'We need to keep such an option in mind and consider the fact of sanctions.'" At The Huffington Post, Richard W Parker from the American Foreign Policy Project wrote: "The key thing to remember now is that the crux of the nuclear dispute with Iran is not the disposition of 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that may or may not be shipped abroad, but will soon be replaced in any case. The main issue is the long-term future of enrichment in Iran. Even if the stockpile deal were to be shelved completely while long-term talks are ongoing, Iran is highly unlikely to 'break out' from Natanz in the next few months, with barely enough fuel for a single bomb, in the middle of talks aimed at a permanent accommodation with the West. Certainly the risks of that scenario are far smaller than the risks flowing from the alternative outcome of no talks, sanctions and war. "Moreover, the stockpile deal may yet be salvageable. Iran has said it accepts the deal in principle but wants greater guarantees of supply. Towards this end, Iran has informally broached the idea of a simultaneous swap on Iranian soil of raw LEU for fabricated fuel rods. Nuclear non-proliferation experts Jim Walsh at MIT and Harold Feiveson at Princeton believe this sort of swap could be structured in a way that meets Iran's need for supply assurance with minimal added risk to US security."

pwoodward@thenational.ae