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March 11, 2006

More Bushlet Diplomacy


by Gordon Prather

Last week Broad and Sanger made a characteristically misleading – but sometimes uncharacteristically revealing – report in the New York Times with respect to what would transpire in the aftermath of the March meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Their report began this way:

"When Iran defiantly cut the locks and seals on its nuclear enrichment plants in January and restarted its effort to manufacture atomic fuel, it forced the world to confront a momentous question: How long will it be before Tehran has the ability to produce a bomb that would alter the balance of power in the Middle East?"

Defiantly?

Who did Iran defy?

Who put those Iranian locks on those IAEA Safeguarded facilities?

Who invited the IAEA to put its seals on those locks?

And who did the Iranians "force" to confront the question of how long it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium in IAEA Safeguarded to make a nuclear weapon?

No one, of course, because the answer to the question is "forever."

The Iranians could never produce any amount of weapons-grade enriched-uranium so long as their enrichment-related activities are subject – as they are – to IAEA Safeguards.

"Iran's claims that it is racing forward with enrichment have created an air of crisis as the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency prepares to meet tomorrow in Vienna before the United Nations Security Council takes up the Iran file for possible penalties."

Racing?

Iran has made no such claim. In fact, the Iranians say they are still very much in the research phase when it comes to enriching uranium with gas-centrifuges.

Broad and Sanger appear to confirm that a few paragraphs later.

"Interviews with many of the world's leading nuclear analysts and a review of technical assessments show that Iran continues to wrestle with serious problems that have slowed its nuclear ambitions for more than two decades.

"Obstacles, the experts say, remain at virtually every step on the atomic road. The most significant, they add, involve the two most technically challenging aspects of the process – converting uranium ore to a toxic gas and, especially, spinning that gas into enriched atomic fuel.

"According to the analysts, the Iranians need to do repairs and build new machines at a prototype plant before they can begin enriching even modest quantities of uranium. And then, for a decade, they would have to mass produce 100 centrifuges a week to fill the cavernous industrial enrichment halls at Natanz. What is more, the gas meant to feed those machines is plagued by impurities."

Apparently Broad and Sanger have known all this for months, perhaps even years.

So why haven’t they told us, before, that the Iranians are nowhere near even getting the second-hand gas-centrifuges they got from a Pakistani junk dealer to work in the lab, much less in a pilot-plant cascade?

Or that the uranium-tetrafluoride and uranium-hexafluoride that the Iranians had managed to produce at the Uranium Conversion Facility (that they had been forced to build themselves, after President Clinton pressured China into canceling their contract to provide the Iranians with a turn-key facility) was "plagued by impurities"?

Under their existing Safeguards Agreement, the Iranians were under no obligation to inform the IAEA about them until actually on the verge of introducing "source or special nuclear materials" into these machines.

As a signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran has the "inalienable" right to acquire and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. And as a signatory to the NPT and a member of the IAEA, the United States is obligated to facilitate that acquisition.

But as Sanger and Broad proudly report, "In the 1990's, it pressured Russia, China and other nations to end deals that would have given the Iranian program a jump-start. Some of those maneuvers were covert; some played out in the press."

Covert?

What else do Sanger and Broad know that’s not being "played out in the press"?

Are we (or the Israelis) still involved in covert actions to deny Iran its inalienable rights?

Have we secretly given Israel the go-ahead to take out Iran’s Safeguarded facilities, just as they took out Iraq’s in 1981?

Far from it, if you can believe Sanger and Broad.

"At least publicly, though, the Bush administration has followed a different strategy than it did with Iraq. After the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction there, President Bush has never argued that Iran poses an imminent threat, and his aides have called for diplomacy."

Oh, yeah?


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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