Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Obama and Ahmadinejad are both exaggerating how advanced Iran's nuclear programme is

Ahmadinejad has repeated his established practice of making massive exaggerations of how advanced his government’s nuclear programme is. Now, as in 2007, experts say Iran isn’t even close to having the technology or the capacity to expand it’s nuclear capabilities to the levels Ahmadinejad is talking about.

In April 2007 the Guardian reported that :

‘Scientists believe that with 3,000 centrifuges operating smoothly and continually, Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb within nine months. However, nuclear analysts in the US and Britain say the Iranian leadership may be exaggerating its progress. They question whether Iranian scientists have mastered spinning such a large number of the very delicate machines at once. "I think it's a boast," Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US state department expert on non-proliferation who is now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said. "I don't believe they have 3,000 centrifuges running in Natanz. There's not been any evidence yet they can even run test cascades [arrays of centrifuges] in a continuous manner." The UN estimate is that the Iranians have installed only 1,000 centrifuges so far in Natanz and have not yet started enriching uranium with them. UN inspectors are due to visit the site this month to check.’ (1)

In February 2010 the BBC reports :

‘‘Iran currently enriches uranium to a level of 3.5% but requires 20% enriched uranium for its Tehran research reactor, which is meant to produce medical isotopes. A bomb would require uranium enriched to at least 90%. To achieve 20% enrichment would be such a major step for Iran, David Albright of Washington's Institute for Science and International Security told the Associated Press news agency, it "would be going most of the rest of the way to weapon-grade uranium". Mr Salehi said that 10 new uranium enrichment plants would be built. However, experts poured scorn on that announcement, pointing to the cost of such an undertaking and Iran's problems obtaining components because of UN sanctions. Mark Fitzpatrick, a proliferation expert at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, described the proposal as a "farcical bluff". "Iran presumably could start construction by pushing dirt around for 10 new facilities, but there is no way it could begin to construct and equip that many more plants," he told Reuters news agency. "It is hard-pressed today even to keep the centrifuges installed at Natanz running smoothly."’ (2)

The reason is that the Iranian President is deliberately ensuring the nuclear issue is the focus because it shows him as standing up to the US, the UK , France and other governments which backed the Shah’s dictatorship and armed and funded Saddam Hussein as he invaded Iran and gassed Iranians. That’s because it’s one of the few issues that the majority of Iranians will support him on – and because when foreign governments threaten Iran with sanctions or with “all options being on the table” (i.e war – from Obama) Ahmadinejad can label his Iranian opponents “traitors”, as he did in November 2007 (3).

Obama is similarly taking a tough line on Iran for reasons of domestic politics – to avoid being targeted by AIPAC and to try to avoid being labelled as ‘soft on national security’ by Dick Cheney and the Republican party. His fear of Cheney – or his misplaced belief that the right wing of the Republican party will be ‘bipartisan’ in a united US – are poor justifications. AIPAC’s influence on Democratic members of Congress – and Hillary Clinton’s close relationship with it – is more of a problem. Obama would be better to simply ignore Ahmadinejad’s proclamations and move on though. Without an external enemy to point to Ahmadinejad and Khameini would be forced to allow greater democracy sooner or later.

(1) = Guardian 10 Apr 2007 ‘Iran raises stakes with claim of nuclear leap’,

(2) = BBC News 08 Feb 2010 ‘New Iran nuclear sanctions 'only path', says US’,

(3) = Guardian 13 Nov 2007 ‘Ahmadinejad steps up rhetoric against critics at home with threat to expose 'traitors'’,

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