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Iran: False Assumptions

Detecting a nuclear weapons program is not easy: the U.S. intelligence community failed to detect the Iraqi nuclear program in 1991; the construction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2009; the North Korean nuclear enrichment program in 2000-1, and the Libyan nuclear centrifuge purchases in 2005. That is quite a record.

Iran's Arak heavy water reactor.

Iran's Arak heavy water reactor.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

The Iranian Supreme Leader announced last week that further negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program are ended, asserting that “jihad” will continue until America is destroyed.

Whatever the future of a nuclear “deal” with Iran, still missing are both an analysis of what specific deal is technically required to end the Iranian nuclear weapons program compared to what is now on the table, and whether the assumptions many in the West bring for an agreement to succeed hold up under scrutiny.

To answer the first problem, an analysis by Gregory Jones of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) explores the faults with the current proposals.

First, according to Jones, Iran can still quickly produce Highly Enriched Uranium [HEU], the stuff from which nuclear weapons are built. As Jones emphasizes, “this means Iran is already a de facto nuclear weapon state.” Any agreements, therefore, must “deny Iran access to HEU either in the short or long term,” as well as prevent Iran’s Arak nuclear reactor from being “reconverted to be able to produce” plutonium from which nuclear bomb fuel can be made.

Second, under the terms of the interim deal, Iran “will have an unrestricted centrifuge enrichment program,” thus legitimizing Iran’s desire for such a program, as well as any other country that desires nuclear weapons. Jones explains that IAEA inspections also must provide for the “timely detection” of any diversion of produced nuclear fuel.

Third, Iran should therefore have no “centrifuge enrichment capability” precisely because “commercial scale centrifuge enrichment facilities can produce HEU so quickly that these facilities are unsafeguardable as timely detection of diversion is impossible.” Jones also emphasizes that just because there has not been any diversion of nuclear fuel to date, does not mean that no such diversion will ever take place in Iran in the future.

The second critical issue is whether the assumptions of those convinced an agreement with Iran is possible at all are correct. These assumptions vary but they usually fall into six categories.

1) Iran will never use a nuclear weapon, even if it has one.

2) Iran is simply trying to defend itself from a bullying United States that has a history of pushing for regime change.

3) Any use of a nuclear device would easily be detected as to the country of origin, including Iran.

4) Similarly, Iran’s ballistic missiles — designed to deliver a nuclear warhead — are simply a deterrent needed in a bad neighborhood and their use could be readily attributed to Tehran.

5) Should Iran decide to build a nuclear warhead, US intelligence will readily detect such a move.

6) There are no real options other than “diplomacy,” and if we could talk to the Soviets during the Cold War, we can certainly talk to the Iranian mullahs now.

But are these assumptions true?

On assumptions #1 and #2: Iran has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and a “world without” the United States. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s former President, for example, has stated that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”

On assumption #3: The U.S. has made progress on nuclear forensics but does not have the ability accurately to detect the origin of a nuclear explosion. Worse, an electromagnetic pulse [EMP] bomb would not leave any nuclear debris to be analyzed.

On assumption #4: Iran’s ballistic missiles can be instruments of coercion, blackmail and terror, even if never launched. Tens of thousands of Iranian-built rockets and missiles have been transferred to Hamas and Hezbollah for just that purpose.

About the Author: Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland.


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