Jeffrey LewisIran, Iran, Iran

Three items.

(1) Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel quote unnamed US officials arguing that Iran could “begin producing highly enriched uranium much sooner than currently forecast” perhaps as early as 2007, and produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon within a year of that.

The claim is that Iran has successfully operated small (10-20 centrifuge) assemblies that could be used in a larger assembly. Ian Traynor, in The Guardian, has a similar story citing unnamed US officials claiming that Iran is “in the process of achieving a ‘technological leap’ by making operational a cascade of 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium for power plants or warheads.”

I can’t figure out why this would acelerate the timeline—the “new” information is precisely that covered in the most recent safeguards report. I don’t see any reason to think that successful operation of 10 or 20 centrifuge cascades would result in a dramatic revision of the basic timeline outlined in classified intelligence reports and unclassified assessments, such as those published by the Institute for Science and International Security (See Iran & the Bomb 1: How Close Is Iran?, 19 January 2006). Iran still has to operate a 164 centrifgue cascade, install a very large number at the Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz and pray to Allah that it is making clean hex.

(2) Matt Bunn, who needs no introduction, has written an op-ed with Abbas Maleki, a former deputy foreign minister of Iranal Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of
Government and senior researcher here at the Belfer Center.

Bunn and Malecki argue that:

First, all sides should agree on three steps to guarantee that fuel to Iran’s reactors will not be cut off: (1) The major nuclear fuel suppliers should form a commercial consortium that would guarantee to step in if Russian supply was interrupted. (2) The United States, Russia, and other countries should contribute enriched uranium to an IAEA-controlled fuel bank whose rules would require it to provide fuel if there was an interruption of supply unless it was ordered not to do so by the Security Council. (3) Finally, Iran and the major powers should establish a stockpile of some three years’ worth of nuclear fuel physically in Iran (much like the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve).

Second, Iran and the other parties in the dispute should launch a new multilateral forum to address all sides’ political, security, and economic concerns. This forum should air the long-standing sources of U.S.-Iranian animosity, agree on steps to strengthen collective security in the Persian Gulf, and restart Iranian-European talks on a new trade pact.

Third, all participants (including the United States) should assure Iran that they will not attack or threaten to overthrow Iran’s government as long as Iran complies with the nuclear deal and does not commit or sponsor aggression.

(3) Finally, I’ve posted an English translation of a speech by former top Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, which was reprinted in the Iranian journal Rahbord (Strategy).

Rohani laments that, had Iran not pursued its program in secret, the current situation would not be so difficult:

One of the members indicated here that all this should have been done in secret. This was the intention; this never was supposed to be in the open. But in any case, the spies exposed it. We did not want to declare all this. Some of you say that if we had said from the start that we wanted to have the fuel cycle, the situation would have been easier. Yes, if we had decided to declare our intention at the beginning, if we had told the IAEA that we intended to build a UCF plant at the same time that we started construction at Esfahan, if we had announced our facilities at Natanz from the start, we would not have any problems now, or our problems would have been far less than they are today. In fact, this is the very reason that our case has become so complicated. They ask: If you truly were after fuel cycle, why did you do it secretly?! This is the root of all problems. If we had done it openly, the problem would have been far simpler. In the beginning, we decided not to go public for a number of reasons. For example, pressure from the West to deny us primary materials, and reasons like that. We wanted to keep it secret for a while. Of course, we all knew at that some point this would become public knowledge. I do not want to get into the history of this issue at this time.


  1. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    This story seems to be making the rounds. The LA Times also published a variant, and I pulled it apart here: