The Enrichment Question
by Charles Lemos, Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:58:32 PM EDT
The Financial Times has an article out tonight entitled US may cede to Iran's nuclear ambition which is a bit misleading. The real question is whether the US will accede and recognize Iran's right to self-enrichment of uranium.
US officials are considering whether to accept Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment, which has been outlawed by the United Nations and remains at the heart of fears that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.
As part of a policy review commissioned by President Barack Obama, diplomats are discussing whether the US will eventually have to accept Iran's insistence on carrying out the process, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons- grade material.
"There's a fundamental impasse between the western demand for no enrichment and the Iranian demand to continue enrichment," says Mark Fitzpatrick, a former state depart- ment expert now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "There's no obvious compromise between those two positions."
The US has insisted that Iran stop enrichment, although Mr Fitzpatrick notes that international offers put to Tehran during George W. Bush's second term as president left the door open to the possible resumption of enrichment.
"There is a growing recognition in [Washington] that the zero [enrichment] solution, though still favoured, simply is unfeasible," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. "The US may still have zero as its opening position, while recognising it may not be where things stand at the end of a potential agreement."
In order to fuel a nuclear reactor, it is necessary to produce low-enriched uranium. At the same time, however, highly-enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons. Thus the goal of the US has been to prevent Iran undertaking the uranium-enrichment process and has attempted to forge a broad international coalition demanding that Iran only import enriched uranium. However, Iran has insisted that it has right to enrich its own uranium.
The rational for this is that for 30 years, the regime in Tehran has been subjected to crippling sanctions and this has effected their thinking. If Iran can't enrich its own uranium, the regime fears having the supply cut at any moment for any reason. The regime, thus, wants to control the process from start to finish.
Furthermore, many Iran observers and intelligence analysts believe that Iran is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons but not necessarily such weapons themselves. That is Iran wishes to develop a credible deterrent without ever having to demonstrate that it actually possesses a nuclear weapon. In Tehran's view, that's good enough.
In July 2007, a senior Iranian official told the UK Independent that with almost 3,000 centrifuges then running at Natanz, "we have at the moment enough centrifuges to go to a bomb". But the official added that Iran was barred by its own security and defense doctrine, by its Parliament, and by a religious fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader, from building a bomb. The official added that if Iran produced a single bomb "what is it good for? If we attack Israeli with one bomb, America would attack us with thousands of bombs. It's suicide."
I do believe that the Iranian regime is a rational one, if oppressive one and that the goal of Islamic Republic is to survive not the destruction of Israel even if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shoots his mouth more often than he should. Iran may strike at Israel through its Hamas and Hezabollah proxies but it recognizes that a frontal attack on Israel would be suicide.