Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is limiting his country’s nuclear program to fit Israel’s demands, at least for the time being, the Wall Street Journal reported.
According to senior U.S., European and Israeli officials, Khamenei’s decision was designed to avoid a crisis during Iran’s election year.
Khamenei wants the June vote to produce a new leader closer to his positions than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and to avoid the kind of unrest that marked Iran’s 2009 elections.
According to the Journal, Khamenei is “placing the Obama administration and its allies in a delicate strategic position, possibly constraining their response to Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran’s nuclear program was supposed to hit its point of no return in 2013, enriching a sufficient amount of uranium to enable it to produce a nuclear weapon. In such a case, Israel and its allies were mulling the possibility and the timing of using military force.
A senior U.S. official working on Iran reported that “based on the latest IAEA report, Iran appears to be limiting its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium by converting a significant portion of it to oxide. But that could change at any moment.”
The officials still expect Khamenei’s moves to be a delay, rather than a change of policy. Iran’s actions still appear to be in line with accelerating the pace towards creating weapons-grade fuel. They point out the IAEA’s report that Iran has installed thousands of new centrifuges at the Fordow underground military facility in Qom,. The site is a huge, fortified bunker, possibly immune to U.S. or Israeli air strikes.
With the new centrifuges, Iran is capable of tripling the pace of enriching uranium. If Khamenei decides to step over Israel’s red line sometime this year, Iran could move rapidly to produce the weapons-grade fuel for a bomb.
“There is a good point to be made that Iran has accepted 250 kilograms as the red line, but they are doing this very cleverly,” said Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Iran’s moves would “enable Iran to cross the red line clandestinely in a matter of weeks,” he said.