Jeffrey LewisTwenty-Two Cascades Under Vacuum

Iran is not slowing its nuclear program, ok?

I know the headlines keep saying it, but it ain’t so — look for yourself. Count the black and gray bars, not just the black ones.

The most recent IAEA report on Iran makes clear that Iran continues the pattern noted on this blog of installing about three new cascades per month (See previous posts: Nine Cascades in Vacuum, 24 February 2009 and Thirteen Cascades in Vacuum, 6 June 2009.)

Since November 2008, Iran has installed 27 new cascades, bringing the installed total to 50.

In April, then Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Gholam Reza Aqazadeh announced that Iran would complete installation of 54,000 centrifuges (18 modules of 18 cascades of 164 centrifuges) by the end of the current Five-Year Plan (which ends, please correct me if I am wrong, in March 2015).

This huge and complex project has been completed in the Natanz region and to date around 7,000 machines have been installed there. This number will increase to 50,000 by the end of the five year development plan.

The latter goal implies an installation pace of about 5 cascades month.

The IAEA indicates that “installation work” is continuing in two other modules (capable of holding another 6,000 centrifuges).

I continue to believe that Iran will install between 3-5 cascades a month for the next five years, barring some external intervention, until Natanz houses its complete set of 54,000 centrifuges.

Why Is Iran Operating Fewer Cascades?

The short answer is: I don’t know.

Iran is feeding uranium hexafluoride into fewer cascades than it was in May (the black bars). At least two cascades have been taken off line since then for what a “senior diplomat in Vienna” told Mark Heinrich of Reuters was “repair and maintenance.”

It is possible that Natanz experienced some serious technical setback. Wikileaks claimed in July that “a source associated with Iran’s nuclear program confidentially told WikiLeaks of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz.” Aqazadeh subsequently resigned — though that could be related to Iran’s unstable political situation.

Whatever the reason, the evidence points to Iran continuing to reject suspension as a condition of negotiations. I note, in passing, that Louis Charbonneau, also of Reuters, had an intriguing story sourced to “Western diplomats” claiming that a group of Iranian pragmatists pushed for a suspension:

Speaking on condition of anonymity, several diplomats said the proposal came from “pragmatists” inside Iran and called for a temporary suspension of “limited scope and duration.”

They were slapped down by Iran’s political leaders.

Whatever the reason for taking those two cascades off-line, I don’t think it is political.

I also recommend analyses by David Albright, Jackie Shire, and Paul Brannan ISIS Analysis of August 2009 IAEA Iran Report of the report to you as well as Peter Crail, Daryl Kimball, and Greg Thielmann, Preliminary Analysis of IAEA Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program.


  1. FSB

    Yaeh, agreed, Iran is not slowing its nuclear program.

    Its civil nuclear U enrichment program to LEU levels, that is.

    It could start making HEU, but it has not done so.

    Iran could start making HEU just as Brazil might.

    I don’t see a reason that Iran should suspend its LEU enrichment program.

  2. Arnold Evans (History)

    I’ve meant to notice that we have Iranians, publicly, in their own names, saying Iran’s supreme leader is no longer trustworthy, that the Guardian Council has orchestrated a huge elaborate fraud that discounted or falsely counted tens of millions of votes. People are saying, in public, in their own names, that arrested prisoners are being raped with flashlights and broomsticks.

    But we have some “western” “diplomats”, who refuse to be named, claiming that some Iranian “pragmatists” whom they refuse to name, said privately at some point in time that Iran should suspend enrichment under some circumstances.


  3. Mark

    Haven’t you noticed a pattern of news articles emerging before the issuance of IAEA reports claiming that Iran had slowed down its enrichment program? Happened in 2008, happened in 2007

  4. Azr@el (History)

    Anonymous sources are literary instruments used by journalist when they wish to sell sexy fiction.

  5. Arnold Evans (History)

    What Iran is not doing right now is minimizing the time it would take to reach some amount of low enriched uranium.

    If Iran has a target of enough material in low enriched form that it could be further enriched to make ten weapons, Iran is not racing to that target as fast as possible.

    Of course, Iran has just as much a legal right to put itself into a position to claim it could easily create ten weapons as Japan has to put itself into the position that its leaders boast that it could produce “thousands” of weapons.

    The Security Council overstretches its mandate in demanding Iran give up its legal right just as it would be overstretching to demand Israel ratify the NPT or Japan renounce enrichment and reprocessing.

    The Security Council is applying a legal requirement on Iran that its Parliament never ratified, if it can do that, it can not only force Israel to end the siege on Gaza and pay to clear the cluster bombs it left in southern Lebanon, it can not only compel Israel, India and Pakistan to sign the NPT, it can also demand that Mexico sign an arbitrary trade agreement with the US replacing NAFTA.

    Anyway, it is to a degree voluntary that Iran is demonstrably not racing towards some target amount of enriched uranium. And even though Iran has operational centrifuges, it does mean something that it is not putting its maximum amount of centrifuges on line and accumulating low enriched uranium at its maximum rate.

    It’s easy to guess though, that more will come on line if there is another round of sanctions.

  6. Mark

    Arnold, a very basic principle of international law is that countries must voluntarily consent to treaties. This is what’s known jus cogens — a basic principle of international law from which there can be no derogation. The UNSC is acting contrary to just cogens when it demands that Iran abide by the Additional Protocol (even though Iran has offered to do so once it has been allowed to enrich uranium in peace.) It is also acting in derogation of jus cogens when it demands that Iran give up a right recognized by a treaty it has alerady signed, the NPT. UNSC resolutions that violate such basic principles of international law are invalid and nonbinding. Even the UNSC is bound by laws.

  7. nick (History)

    Obama under pressure from the Lobby and Bibi has boxed himself in this arbitrary and flawed September deadline. I think he will be forced to make good on his call for sanctions and that would be the end of extending his open hand.

    As for the report, it is very clear that intel agencies plan to dangle this so called “alleged military” allegations as long as possible so that Iran’s nuclear file remains open. From IRI’s point view testing IR4 in a cascade format for the first time is a response to those that push for a strike at Natanz. Basically saying that you will miss where these newer models are located. Therefore, it is wishful thinking on behalf of the IAEA that subsidiary code 3.1 or the location of centrifuge R&D facilities will be shared anytime soon.

  8. Jun Okumura (History)


    I see your point, but Iran has been found to be in non-compliance with the NPT. That has not been the case with Japan or non-NPT members India, Pakistan and Israel. (DPRK left the NPT but I don’t think that automatically renders UN sanctions illegal.)

  9. scud

    Mark –

    1. Iran has not ratified the Additional Protocol, but has signed it. It is thus fair to call upon Iran to abide by its provisions – at the very least, as any good lawyer would tell you, Iran is committed to refrain from doing anything contrary to its provisions.

    2. The UNSC is not asking Iran to renounce a right under the NPT. The UNSC is asking Iran to suspend enrichment. The UNSC is not denying Iran its right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy – it does not say anything about Bushehr. The NPT says nothing of enrichment, and deliberately so. Furthermore, if Iran is conducting military-related activities, Iran cannot claim the benefits of Article 4.

  10. Ataune (History)


    Iran has been found to be in breach of its safeguard agreement, not the NPT. There is a big difference between the two.

  11. Mark

    Sorry scud, that’s simply incorrect.
    1- Unless ratified, treaties are not binding. And Iran had implemented and has offered to ratify the AP anyway. Thus far, the OFFICIAL US position is that there should be no enrichment in Iran EVEN if Iran ratifies the AP.

    2- TO say that the NPT does not include enrichment is simply laughable.

    3- Actually according to the IAEA reports the “alleged studies” whih Iran “supposedly” conducted (those are El-Baradei’s exact words) happened in the past, and the IAEA has “no credible evidence” that they involved any nuclear material — and thus would not constitute a violation of the NPT (which would require a “diversion of nuclear materialfor nonpeaceful uses”.) Iran is in full compliance with the NPT, quite unlike the USA.

  12. Arnold Evans (History)


    The NPT and safeguards agreement that Iran’s parliament ratified describes the process that is to occur if undeclared materials are found. The process does not include mandatory suspension, much less renouncing or forfeiting the right to enrich.

    Nothing Iran ratified gives anyone a basis to require Iran suspend enrichment. Which is why the IAEA requirement that Iran suspend has always explicitly been in the context of voluntary and non-legally binding actions Iran should take to create confidence. (And until Iran ratifies the AP, while it would be nice, there is no legal requirement that Iran create confidence in its program.)

    There is no argument that the UNSC is not demanding Iran go beyond its treaty requirements. Once it does that, we have to ask why only there. Why not impose requirements on Israel beyond anything in any treaty it’s signed. Almost every Iranian believes it is a politically-motivated, hypocritical double-standard that should be ignored or resisted.


    1. The terms of the Additional Protocol are that it takes force only upon ratification. According to the AP, signing but not ratifying has no legal force, as the IAEA has conceded.

    2. “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.”

    The right to enrich came before the treaty, and is unaffected by the treaty. It is the same sovereign right by which the US was able to acquire the technology to enrich uranium.

    “Without discrimination” means that the open preference the US shows to South Korea and Japan and open hostility it has shown Iran since the Iranian revolution for political reasons cannot put Iran into a category where it has fewer rights than Japan or Brazil.


    Either way, the lawyers can go home now. Nobody in Iran buys these arguments that the US should have a veto over which technologies Iran can access, or that Iran should not be nuclear capable as long as it doesn’t – unless it’s forced to leave the NPT – actually build a weapon.

    Even if you come up with a perfect argument that Iran really really really has a legal obligation to suspend and the UNSC is being fair, because you cannot convince even the Iranians who say “death to the dictator” that your argument is right, your perfect argument has no relevance.

    The United States and Israel are not going to bomb Iran’s program for at least the short and medium term.

    So the alternatives are to remain on the current track until Iran processes all of the uranium it has or accept the principle that Iran can and will be nuclear capable and negotiate ways Iran’s weapons-capable nuclear program can be monitored to ensure that it currently is not diverting material to a weapon or manufacturing a weapon.

    Take your choice. Sanctions will likely result in an acceleration of Iran’s stockpiling of LEU. Sanctions that actually hurt will result in Iran taking actions to actually hurt the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    How much money are you prepared to lose, and how many lives of US soldiers do you really intend to spend in what in the long term almost certainly will be a futile attempt to ensure that Israel maintains its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons capability?

    Make your choice. Iran will respond to your choice accordingly.

  13. hass (History)

    Iran has been more than flexible with the IAEA. The IAEA’s mandate does not extend to conventional weapons programs, nor to explosives nor missile programs nor centrifuge design programs. Unless there is nuclear material invovled, the IAEA has no legal business poking its nose in Iran’s affairs. And, this is what the IAEA itself has said:
    “it should be emphasized … that the Agency has not detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies” (IAEA Gov/2008/15 at paragraph 28).

    “[I]t should be noted that the Agency has not detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard” (IAEA Gov/2008/4 at paragraph 54 )

    I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that the “alleged studies” issue is a political red herring, same as “Yellowcake from Niger”. And accusing Iran of ‘stonewalling’ is ridiculous considering that the US has never made the laptop computer or its contents available to the IAEA, despite the many publicity events it has held using selective bits and pieces of the information since 2005.

  14. Michel S. (History)

    Do you mean the next five-year plan? The one ending in 2015 would by necessity start in 2010; the current one ends in 2010.

  15. FSB

    Oh heavens! no! 22 cascades under vacuum making Low Enriched Uranium!

    Let’s hope Iran hasn’t in addition acquired those deadly aluminum tubes and yellowcake that made the war on Iraq so very very urgent.

  16. FSB
  17. Fred2 (History)

    While many things aren’t very clear, one thing is very clear indeed. Iran is moving toward making nuclear warheads. Their nuclear program is not just for generating electricity, although Iran is building power reactors.

    The hiding of the nuclear program from the IAEA in the past, and the expensive construction of several generations of ground-to-ground ballistic missiles, all indicate WMDs. The Sajjil and other Iranian missiles have no other purpose than the delivery of WMDs.

    Solid-fuel ground-to-ground missiles are strategically ineffective without WMDs. The WMDs we know Iran is working on are nuclear warheads.

    We may not know when, and we may not know whether the warhead will be of Iranian or North Korean construction, but sooner or later, Iran will build a nuclear warhead and attach it to a ballistic missile. Unless, of course, they are stopped.

  18. Arnold Evans (History)


    Regarding: Iran is moving toward making nuclear warheads … sooner or later Iran will build a nuclear warhead and attach it to a ballistic missile

    Unless you would say the same thing about Japan and Brazil – and for all I know, and depending on your definition of “sooner or later” you might say the same thing about every nuclear capable nation.

    But unless you’ve defined your terms in a misleading way that applies to a lot of countries, there is no indication that Iran, under foreseeable circumstances, would go from being “nuclear capable” like Japan to actually building a weapon.

    Iran is clearly moving towards being nuclear capable though. Which is legal and the denial of which has caused the US to continuously abuse the IAEA board and UNSC to Israel’s benefit but to the detriment of the legitimacy of those organizations.

    Now I believe that when John Bolton says Iran would eventually build a weapon given the capability, what he means is that he intends for the US to eventually attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime violently and that Iran, if nuclear capable at that point, will build a weapon to defend against that US attempt.

    People, including you, who say Iran would certainly build a weapon if it was nuclear capable act as if you’re counting on hostilities between the US and Iran spiraling far beyond any level it has ever reached since the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

    Without an actual invasion, troops massed on Iran’s borders as they were in Kuwait in anticipation of an invasion of Iraq, or Iran or a Muslim nation being bombed, I cannot imagine a scenario in which actually building a weapon give Iran an advantage over just being nuclear capable.

    When you say Iran would not stop at being nuclear capable, it almost sounds like you’re counting on or threatening to one of just those things, which makes it more imperative for Iran to reach nuclear capability as soon as possible.

  19. Fred2 (History)

    Iran is not just an ordinary country looking out for its interests. There are good reasons that the local Arab states are responding by increasing their own nuclear capabilities. Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, are reacting to the Iranian nuclear program differently than the nuclear programs of Japan, Brazil or even India and Pakistan, which have nuclear weapons.

    This is because Iran is different in its intentions and worldview. The entire thrust of your remark is to deny this difference.

    You cannot imagine a benefit to Iran of building the Bomb. The Ayatollahs make clear they want to be in charge of the entire Middle East and eliminate the Jewish State in Palestine. These things can only be accomplished by war. In this case, by nuclear war.

    Absent Iran’s plan for nuclear war, the US has had no intent to overthrow the Iranian revolution. The US has had 30 years to do this, were it so inclined. Reagan and the 2 Bushes were in office for a total of 20 years, and Iran was safe from the US. The only enemy Iran had was Saddam, and he is dead.

    Since nuclear weapons are not needed for Iran’s defense, they must be intended for offense.

    Those guided missiles will not generate electricity.

  20. Mohammad

    The current Iranian five-year development plan will end at March 2010 and the next will begin then, which would end at March 2015.

  21. Arnold Evans (History)


    Let me assume you’re being serious.

    Iran does have a view of the Middle East that is incompatible with the US’ view.

    Iran believes that the expulsion of Muslims from Palestine to make way for a Jewish state was an injustice that should be corrected by allowing those expelled and those remaining to vote, presumably for an outcome that would no longer be a Jewish state.

    Most people in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia agree with the people of Iran on this issue. The US props up corrupt dictatorships in these countries to prevent the people of these countries from acting electing leaderships that would act more like Iran, in line with the sensibilities of their populations.

    Based on this disagreement, the objective of the US since Iran’s revolution has been to restrain Iran’s capabilities to the degree possible, to stifle Iran’s economic and technological growth.

    The US directly and through its corrupt anti-democratic clients, attacked Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, but Iran prevailed and the US was unable to achieve the regime change it attempted in that case.

    The Shah’s goal was for Iran to become nuclear capable. The US supported Iran in this goal. The exact same program was opposed at every turn by the US ever since the revolution.

    When Iran becomes nuclear capable as Japan is, the US’ stupid and corrupt clients, like little children, are going to want the same capability. Good for them. If they were democratic, they would have been working achieve this capability long ago.

    Iran does not have any goal in its region that any Iranian has ever expressed would be best accomplished by war, nuclear or non-nuclear. Iran famously has not invaded another country in over a century.

    An Iranian nuclear capability, as John Bolton says, would prevent the US from accomplishing regime change in Iran as it did in Serbia.

    Anti-Iran strategists commonly say there is no difference between Iran being nuclear capable and Iran having a weapon. This can only be the case in a scenario where Iran is being threatened but has time to build a weapon to thwart the threat.

  22. Patrick Disney (History)


    re: “Iran is not just an ordinary country looking out for its interests…Since nuclear weapons are not needed for Iran’s defense, they must be intended for offense.”

    The Iranian government has engaged in a brutal crackdown on the Iranian people, torturing and killing innocent protesters, and thereby delegitimizing the ruling elites in the eyes of their people. They have resorted to these extreme measures in the vain hope that they might maintain their stranglehold on power.

    Does Fred2 believe they have gone to these lengths just so they can commit suicide? I think it is far more that Iran’s leader, just like every other dictator in history, is intent on one thing only: staying in power. It’s hard to do that if you’re dead.

  23. Azr@el (History)

    Without fail at the juncture of realpolitik and propaganda there will always be a certain slice of the population that will take the propaganda a little too literally and follow it to it’s logical ill conclusion. Fred2 and Arnold Evans, U.S. policy is not to prevent Iran from having the bomb, because quite frankly the Iranians are too shrewd to aim for the bomb and thus are not building a bomb which in turn makes it sort of silly for us to prevent them from constructing something which they in turn are not grasping for. What the Iranians are attempting to achieve, and what we can not allow them to achieve, is a broad based nuclear industry that will allow them to have a virtual nuclear deterrent. Such a potential would rewrite the balance of the region.

    Iran is an industralizing state with an internal source of energy, add a nuclear dimension to the equation and you have an independent power base sitting on the jugular of Eurasia. Sure the middle east would suffer repercussions, a near nuclear weapons Iran would end the Israeli experiment simply thru fear driven emigration of Jews to safer countries, it would undermine the ‘moderate’ arab dictatorships and expose them to the irrational will of their own people and of course it would turn the Persian Gulf into a inland sea. But the worse consequence by far would be to seal our access to the Central Eurasian hydrocarbon reserves. Iran could either be a fragmented doorway to the region or a strong gate blocking our access. If it remains a unified nuclear capable state it implies a reduction in our ability to influence other states such as the PRC by control of the Central Eurasian Hydrocarbon fields. And that could be a game loser.

    That being said, its incredibly difficult to convince the average American to get behind a policy of blocking a ‘virtual’ bomb. It doesn’t translate well into soundbitese, thus we create the meesage of the Iranian bomb as a shorthand to get our demos behind a push to cripple Iran before they advance too far along. One shouldn’t try too hard to prove the message, it’s after all just a label on a much more complex strategic concept. And for those who question the efficacy of such shorthands, do recall it’s successful employment in previous days.

  24. hass (History)

    Fred2 — Egypt has had a nuclear program as long as Iran, and is not “responding” to Iran. Same goes for S Arabia. In fact the entire world is going nuclear — has nothing to do with Iran— and about 40 countries are rights not “nuclear capable” more to come. In contrast to Iran, Egypt flatly refuses to sign the AP, has violated safeguards by conducting secret experiments, and traces of HEU have been found there — and yet was not referred to the UNSC.
    Incidentally, why is it that Israel’s actual, existing nuclear weapons haven’t had this alleged prolifertion effect in the Mideast, but Iran’s NPT-monitored nuclear fuel program does, when Israel has been at war with the same arab countries repeatedly, and Iran has not (nor does Iran have any territorial claims outside of its own internationally-recognize borders.)

  25. scud

    Arnold –

    Sorry, but to say that Iran is doing the same thing as Japan or Brazil is disingenuous. Even if you discard the “alleged studies” (which the IAEA and Western intel agencies, including those of countries which opposed the Iraq war, do not), did Japan or Brazil test any missiles with “baby-bottle” shaped nosecones – a telling sign? This is not intel, it’s public photography. Did Brazil nor Japan build a vastly oversized NU-fuelled, HW-moderated reactor for “research”? Etc.

    Also, on your previous post: (a) Sorry, but the signature of any treaty does have legal consequences; don’t get into a legal argument if you’re unwilling to carry on with the legal discussion; and (b) There is no such thing as a “right to enrichment” per se; check the negotiating record of the NPT; the framers voted against an amendment to include such a right.

  26. scud

    Hass –

    I agree with you – for once :). It’s a shame that Egypt was not referred.

    But on your question “why is it that Israel’s actual, existing weapons…”: the answer is given by the Turks, the Saudis and, yes, the Egyptians: that’s because they consider a possible Iranian NW as being much more of a threat than the Israeli one. Just ask them. Privately, of course.

  27. Arnold Evans (History)


    What Japan and Brazil have done is, in the words of Azr@el:

    What the Iranians are attempting to achieve, and what we can not allow them to achieve, is a broad based nuclear industry that will allow them to have a virtual nuclear deterrent.

    Of course Iran is attempting to achieve the same thing Japan and Brazil have achieved: a broad based nuclear industry that will allow them to have a virtual nuclear deterrent.

    The issue is that what Japan and Brazil have achieved, a nuclear industry that gives them a virtual nuclear deterrent is legal by any reasonable reading of the NPT, not only for Brazil, but also for Iran.

    So I’m saying the reading of the NPT that you’ve contrived that Iran, unlike Brazil does not have that right is unreasonable.

    But even if you think it’s reasonable, nobody in Iran agrees with you, the US is not in a position to impose its view militarily and the type of sanctions that would be necessary to impose this unreasonable view would be very expensive in terms of the response they would provoke from Iran against US objectives and ultimately unlikely to work.

    You’re beating your own head against a wall. The US is not going to be able to prevent Iran from exercising its right to achieve a virtual nuclear deterrent.

    But that’s not what you’re arguing. You’re arguing that somehow Iran does not have a right to a virtual nuclear deterrent. I find that argument uninteresting, because even though it is easy to convince a reasonable unbiased observer that your position is crazy, it wouldn’t matter even if your position was right.


    Regarding: its incredibly difficult to convince the average American to get behind a policy of blocking a ‘virtual’ bomb. … And for those who question the efficacy of such shorthands, do recall it’s successful employment in previous days.

    Preventing an Iranian virtual bomb is impossible to sell the Americans exactly because it is an unreasonable goal. It leaves people like Fred, scud, and the entire US foreign policy community in a position that they constantly have to nudge and bend the truth hoping nobody like me or Hass is around to unmask these silly unsupportable distortions they have to construct to support an essentially unreasonable position.

    I’m intrigued by your idea that these “shorthands” have been useful in the past. (And “nuclear weapon” is not a shorthand for “virtual nuclear weapon”, it is a deliberately deceptive misdirection.)

    What examples of “shorthands” that have been useful do you have in mind?

  28. Fred2 (History)

    Your comment supports the analysis that Iran is going to use nuclear weapons to change Israel from a Jewish State. This is a declaration of war, not of electricity.

    If the US attacked Iran with Iraq (doubtful, since Iraq was a Soviet client) then clearly Iran is attacking Israel through Hezbollah and Hamas. That war has begun.

    Iran’s logic is not your logic. Their view of the afterlife is different than yours. The Ayatollahs are staying in power for a purpose. In their view, it is an Islamic purpose. Apparently, this purpose requires nuclear warheads. Your view of suicide is not their view of suicide.

    It is reasonable to guess that Iran merely wants an oil monopoly for regional (or world) domination. I’m not sure the Ayatollahs are as reasonable as you are. Their statements about altering Israel and wide-spanning domination indicate they intend confrontation across a broad front.

    Egypt has been developing nuclear energy, on and off, since the 1950’s, as you say. Recently there has been an uptick in activity and the IAEA has raised a few questions. But you are correct.

    Egypt understands the Middle East, they interpret the Iranian nuclear program as developing weapons.

    Saudi nuclear development is increasing ; Nobody thinks Saudi Arabia is short of energy and they are fighting Iranian backed forces in Yemen, too. So that war has also begun.

    Saudi Arabia also understands the Middle East very well, and they are very concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. They wouldn’t be concerned if it were just generating electricity.

    Iran’s lies about electricity are not intended to be believed, they are intended to intimidate. The Saudi’s clearly can see through the lie.

  29. Arnold Evans (History)

    Bill Clinton also signed the Kyoto Protocols, knowing they would not be ratified by Congress.

    scud, are you arguing that the Kyoto Protocols are now legally binding on the United States?

    It’s hard for me to believe you’re being serious now.

  30. Azr@el (History)

    did Japan or Brazil test any missiles with “baby-bottle” shaped nosecones – a telling sign?

    Actually Japan has developed far more advanced reentry technology than Iran’s baby bottle RV which can probably at most give service to a MRBM with range no greater than 5000km i.e. <6km/s. Japan with their MUSES-C/DASH on the other hand, realized the capability for 12km/s reentry; more than suitable for ICBM applications. Coupled with the Mu-3 slv, a 40 ton 4 stage solid rocket out of production vehicle that could readily be converted into an ICBM, not to mention an extensive nuclear industry with vast reserves of weapons grade plutonium just laying about, Japan poses a far greater break out risk than the IRI.

    It’s very cute that some of us are obsessed with this idea that we are being fair or following international law. But that would be the only disingenuous aspect of this debate. We are contorting international law, bending every concept of fairness to achieve a strategic outcome to our liking; the dismemberment of Iran to ensure Pax Americana. I agree it’s a rotten thing to do, but seriously we’ve done worse for less. Now can we stop drawing other nations into this debate in attempt to show how law abiding or consistent we are in the application of said laws.

  31. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I hate wading into the comments when things get like this, but I just wanted to note that Brazil did have a weapons-program.

  32. Azr@el (History)

    Ad Fred2,

    I’m not assuming the goal of the Iranians is oil monopoly, a rug monopoly or a pistachio monopoly…I’m assuming their goal is to survive as a unified state.

    Ad Arnold Evans,

    Since rarely are nations faced with absolute evil or absolute good, the histories of democracies, democratic republics or any populist governances are littered with good and bad men encouraging the masses to organize by distilling complex issues into simple folksy shorthands. If I felt particularly clever I could scrounge up some reference to the Napoleonic wars when people were fed the shorthand of liberté, égalité, fraternité in order to further the delusions of a mad man or I could just lazily point out that we’ve gone to war before to disarm a rogue “nuclear” power bent on destroying Israel, the west and our children 😉

    Good propaganda is not a lie, it’s an alternative truth that finds greater favour with the people. Go grab a person off the street and tell them we’ve done bad things and paid a stiff price…then follow it all with the line, “to save our children” and I assure you the stochastic response over a large enough set of people will be, “thank god”.

  33. scud

    Yup, Jeff, Brazil did have a weapons-program (although we’ll never know for sure how far they went in weaponization since the Army destroyed, it seems, lotsa documents in the late 80s). And that’s precisely the point. What we are discussing right now are the signs that, taken together, indicate that Iran wants at least a nuclear weapons option.

    I certainly don’t agree with Azrael that Brazil and Japan have a “virtual nuclear deterrent”.

    On so-called “W-grade” plutonium, for instance: that’s a very debatable point. When you’re a nuclear newcomer, you don’t want to use Pu that came from LWR, oh no. There are ways to get around the problem of isotopic composition (somewhat), but it requires lotsa testing. So no, I don’t think that Japan has a Pu weapon option.

    And Arnold – I’m being dead serious. As Bolton was serious when he wanted to “unsign” (sic) the Kyoto protocol, because as any good lawyer would tell you (and he may be a **** but he’s a damn good lawyer), again, when you’ve signed a treaty, even if you have not ratified it you’re legally committed to, in a nutshell, refrain from doing anything contrary to the object of the treaty. So yes, signing the AP does have legal consequences.

  34. archjr (History)


    Thanks for your observations about the difference between Iran having a nuclear capability as opposed to an actual weapon. Iran has pursued a posture of calculated ambiguity, perhaps better described as “constructive irresponsibility,” on this matter since its clandestine nuclear program was exposed to the IAEA years ago.

    Iran’s nuclear posture has many historical precedents and variations, and doubtless Iran’s policy has been informed by, among others: China’s posture of minimal deterrence, about which Jeffrey is the preeminent expert; Israel’s statements about not being the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East (“but we won’t be the second” having particular present resonance); Libya’s purchases from A.Q. Khan; and North Korea’s expert use of constructive irresponsibility, of which the DPRK is the foremost practitioner. Each new proliferator builds on the experience of those that have gone before.

    What is puzzling to me is why Iran has failed to satisfy the IAEA on several issues raised. Maybe it’s a reflection of the apparent internal divisions within the ruling regime. Ambassador Salehi, now the head of the AEOI (, was present and responsible for the evolution in Iran’s approach to the IAEA after the revelations, and maybe his experience will somehow change Iran’s approach to the Agency’s defensible requests. It’s way too simplistic to blame this obstructionism solely on the policies expounded by the Bush and Obama administrations and defend Iran, as some do on these pages. If you look back at Iran’s diplomacy, you can see a transformation from outright denial to a more sophisticated legal interpretation of its obligations under the NPT and the associated safeguards agreements.

    The bottom line is that Iran is keeping its options open in an environment of confusion and political bickering among the IAEA members and the Security Council. Perhaps President Obama’s chairing of the upcoming SSOD in New York will result in a consensus on what to do, but to date Iran’s diplomats have successfully thwarted any successful approach by the UN and the IAEA to the problem Iran has created . No one should underestimate the political clout of the nonaligned over the past several years in assuring that Iran’s principled position carried the day, as against real worries about what direction it would ultimately take. For now, the lawyers in the mix, and Iran’s ambiguous policy, have prevented any effective international response to the provocations Iran’s evolving nuclear policy have presented. Maybe politics, and the presence of many influential actors at the SSOD/UNGA, will find a way through this. Hope, at least, springs eternal, and the alternatives without the transparency required by IAEA inspections are awful to contemplate.
    By the way, I am not sure the following statement is true: where’s the evidence?:

    “The Shah’s goal was for Iran to become nuclear capable. The US supported Iran in this goal.”

  35. nick (History)

    Also, let me add that the Brazilian centrifuges at Resende are designed, tested and manufactured by their navy. So when ElBaradei questions Iran’s military involvement in the last report, he is (a) outside of Agnecy’s jurisdiction, and (b) not applying the same measures to Brazil, which incidentally enriching to 20%.

  36. hass (History)

    But Braizl at the time was not an NPT signatory, Jeffrey, and was not subject to the same inspections as Iran. Brazil today is an NPT member in good standing, has been enriching uranium, and therefore “could” decide to make bombs as is alleged about Iran. In fact, considering that Brazil did have a weapons program in the past, has refused the same AP that Iran has signed, and retired generals there have publicly favored making nukes, then Brazil is the one we should be worried about!

  37. kerbihan

    Yes, in Brazil the military are involved in uranium enrichment. But that’s for nuclear propulsion – hence the navy’s direct involvement. Iran has no capability and no plan for naval nuclear propulsion.

  38. FSB

    Yes, kerbihan, Iran has no plan for naval nuclear propulsion. They have one for civilian nuclear LEU fuel, in accordance with the NPT.

    Where is the evidence of a CURRENT Iranian nuclear program again?

  39. FSB


    virtually all experts agree that Iran may desire nuclear weapons capability for the purposes of deterrence.

    Like all other nuclear armed nations.

    Iran is not going to commit national suicide by using them offensively.

  40. kme

    scud: I believe the Japanese Pu referred to is that from the breeder blankets – does that not have a more weapons-usable isotopic composition?

  41. hass (History)

    archjr: I don’t buy the argument that Iran is seeking nuclear ambiguity and wants to maintain weapons “capability” for a very good reason: if so, would they have offered to place additional restrictions well beyond even the AP on their nuclear program? These offers were not insiginifant — short of ending enrichment, if accepted these compromise offers would have made it practically impossible for Iran to make nukes. Why do this if you want “ambiguity”? Also, the whole argument assumes that the conflict is simply about Iranian desire to have nukes, when in fact it is a larger conflict between developed and developing nations to control the uranium fuel cycle, the sole energy source of the near future. When the debate is limited to the framing of “Iranian nukes” alone you’re missing the bigger picture.

    I can guess why Iran has refused to “satisfy the IAEA” on some matters. For example the IAEA’s demand to see the centrifuge design and manufacturing facilities leaving aside the fact that this falls well outside of the IAEA’s jurisdiction (according to the explicit text of Iran’s safeguards agreement is limited to monitoring nuclear material to ensure non-diversion — and centrifuge design facilities have no nuclear material to be monitored or diverted. Same goes for rocket design facilities.) It is widely claimed that one of the reasons that bombing Natanz would be ineffective is because the Iranians could simply manufacture more centrifuges. Thus, exposing their centrifuge design and manufacture facilities would make it more likely to be bombed. Why do that especially when there is no legal obligation to do so? And lets say that Iran does satisfy the IAEA on that point — do you suppose the US will then back off? When Clinton has explicitly stated that Iran isn’t “allowed” to have ANY enrichment, no matter how well-inspected and NPT compliant? See, again we’re missing the bigger picture.

  42. hass (History)

    scud: the argument that Egypt sees Iran as more of a danger than Israel is what’s known as “a priori” thinking: having already concluded that iran is the danger, you’re resorting to a series of more indefensible arguments to support that view. The Egyptians themselves have stated repeatedly that they support Iran’s nuclear program and find Israel’s nukes to be the real danger. That’s quite logical too. Of course you can then say that “in private” the Egyptians say something else — but remember what I said about more and more indefensible arguments (in this case, employing the the “I’m in a position to know, not you” fallacy. How do you know what the Egyptians say in private?)

  43. kerbihan

    Hass, I think you need to see it the other way round: if Iran was NOT seeking at least a NW capability, why would it not implement the AP and “additional restrictions”? If after a few months of AP inspections the IAEA did not see anything fishy, then the case for sanctions would be dead.

  44. Andy (History)


    Iran has the power to settle the question once and for all by implementing most of the actions the Agency deems necessary to verify non-diversion. Iran could provide the additional transparency and access measures requested by the Agency, and provisionally implement the AP for a defined period – say ten years. Suspension would be helpful but, IMO, would not be required. This course of action would allow the Agency to complete the work it needs to do without Iran sacrificing any of its NPT rights or being “forced” to ratify the AP. It is a course of action that Iran could unilaterally implement and it is a course of action that would end the basis for sanctions, provided Iran’s file was closed satisfactorily.

  45. archjr (History)

    Thanks, Andy, for putting it more succinctly than I did. I keep trying to understand the logic behind Iran’s track record vis-a-vis the IAEA. There is no way the IAEA Board can deny its right to enrich, legally or politically; this much alone was enough to allow the NAM/G-77 to support Iran’s position and allow it to slow-roll the process, and the policy of no enrichment followed by two successive U.S. administrations has only added to the potent mix of broader sovereignty concerns and point-scoring that has rallied the NAM/G-77 in the Board, and flummoxed the the fragile P-5+1 position. Iran has been very successful to date in changing the real question from one of what it takes for safeguards to be effective to one of sovereignty and rights under the NPT.

  46. Yale Simkin (History)

    I have been staying out of this endlessly repeated dead-end bickering about Iran and it’s “rights” to play with the tools to create a new Holocaust (which means “Total Incineration”).

    I give the Iranians no slack whatsoever. Just spend an afternoon watching Iranian TV and see the disgusting anti-Jewish hate filth that is directed to children.

    Take a look at this Interpol wanted poster:


    That person is wanted to answer for participating in the slaughter in Argentinia in 1994 killing 85 people and injuring 200, “the largest single act of anti-Semitic murder since the Holocaust”.

    This scum has just been chosen by that vicious hate-monger Ahmadinejad to be the DEFENSE MINISTER of IRAN.

  47. FSB

    why should Iran voluntarily sign-up for the AP? It is a question of national sovereignty.

    Iran should sign up for the AP for 10 years if Israel signs up for the NPT.

  48. FSB

    Let me ask again: can someone please, please, point me to evidence that Iran has a current nuclear weapons program? Thanks

  49. Arnold Evans (History)

    There is no set of questions Iran can answer that will make the US accept Iranian enrichment.

    The US does not accept Iranian enrichment because Israel perceives that it has unique security needs that include a monopoly of nuclear capability in its region.

    The US, along with other countries led by the US in working to ensure Israel’s security, will use every diplomatic lever at their disposal to prevent Iranian enrichment regardless of any finding of the IAEA.

    If the US would accept Iranian enrichment if Iran answered a finite set of questions about its nuclear program, it could say that publicly. Instead the US says the exact opposite – what the US has said about Iran ever since the Iranian revolution, that Iran must not enrich uranium at all under any circumstances.

    Iran says publicly that it will ratify the AP if its right to enrich uranium is accepted. That the US does not take it up on this speaks for itself.

    So if Iran implements the AP, the US will have more information about Iran’s nuclear program which means better targeting data to threaten to bomb Iran and to actually carry out such a bombing if that ever becomes feasible. It also means a better basis to forge “laptops of death” as necessary.

    If Iran implements the AP for ten years, there is absolutely no chance that after those ten years the US will support Iranian enrichment, because the AP is not the reason the US ever opposed Iranian enrichment.

    If the US does not support Iranian enrichment, then sanctions that require US approval to be lifted will not be lifted.

    Iran has not changed the subject. The safeguards that are sufficient for Japan and Brazil are not sufficient for Iran. The most thorough investigation ever into a nation’s nuclear program that has turned up no weapons program is not sufficient for Iran.

    Iran will counter sanctions by accelerating the pace of its uranium enrichment and by withdrawing cooperation from the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    If you really believe Iran could end the sanctions by cooperating more with the IAEA, you are amazingly naive. No US official has ever given any indication that it would withdraw its opposition to Iranian enrichment under any circumstance. Iran does not share your naivety.

  50. Andy (History)


    Iran already has “signed up” to the AP – all I am talking about is provisional implementation similar to what Iran did for two years previously – a period of time the Agency said was inadequate.

    Your incessant teeth-gnashing over Israel’s program is irrelevant. Israel is not a signatory to the NPT like Pakistan and North Korea. Why not demand that Pakistan sign the NPT as well? What makes them different from Israel? Why don’t you apply the “they must sign the npt” requirement to others?

    Let me ask again: can someone please, please, point me to evidence that Iran has a current nuclear weapons program?

    There does not need to be definitive evidence of a current weapons program before the Agency can take action :

    The information that safeguards inspector is likely to uncover, however, is such that, rather than demonstrating a clear violation of the agreement it would raise doubts as to whether the State is fulfilling its obligations under the agreement. Regardless of the type of agreement, the IAEA has the right and the duty to try to resolve these doubts through the examination of the information assembled and the obtaining from the State of additional information and/or access to additional locations.


    There is no set of questions Iran can answer that will make the US accept Iranian enrichment.

    I doubt the surety and veracity of this claim. If you believe there really is nothing that would affect US opposition to Iranian enrichment, then there is no use arguing. You should, however, at least have a sense of how often these sorts of goalposts are, in reality, moved when diplomacy actually occurs. What appear as inflexible positions are often, in reality, simply the starting point for compromise. They appear inflexible to provide a negotiating advantage.

    The Bush administration, for instance, was willing to negotiate with only suspension as a requirement – IOW, Iranian enrichment was on the table even though the US goal is to prevent that. The new administration has gone even further, yet Iran is, so far, uninteresting is engagement.

    Your assertion the US would never accept Iranian enrichment might be right in the end – there is only one way to find out for sure, isn’t there?

    The scenario I outlined has win-win potential and holds the possibility for a political solution. What is your alternative? Given your assumptions, there doesn’t seem to be any. Such absolutist positions, like those of the neo-cons, make a political solution less likely, and a violent conflict more likely.

  51. Azr@el (History)

    “again, when you’ve signed a treaty, even if you have not ratified it you’re legally committed to, in a nutshell, refrain from doing anything contrary to the object of the treaty. So yes, signing the AP does have legal consequences.”

    Err…No, most definitely not an accurate understanding of international law. Signing a treaty is an act to demonstrate intent, ratification is the binding act which brings into force legal obligation. Many nations have signed treaties without ratification and then have continued to act contrary to the spirit and writ of said treaty without legal ramifications. What ‘scud’ is confusing is the reciprocity factor in signing a treaty with the legal obligations of ratification; e.g. Country A signs an unpopular treaty with country B which country B immediately ratifies, country A fails to ratify said treaty but wishing to not lose the benefit of signing the treaty maintains a policy of refraining from acting contrary to the intent of the treaty. If however country A does transgress the terms of the treaty there is no legal mechanism applicable (though there may be political ones) whereas if country B transgresses it can result in a violation of said treaty instigating remedy or abrogation of said treaty.

    Dear ‘scud’ please forward my consulting fee usd 1250.00 to the website administrator. My apologies, I’m no John Bolton; I’m far more expensive.

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