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Op-Ed: And On the Iranian Nuclear Front...

Iran is not a status quo power. It looks to expansion, in its leaders own words.
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 3:01 PM


  • To produce its first atomic bomb from 20 percent enriched uranium, Iran would need a stockpile of 225 kilograms, which upon further enrichment to the weapons-grade level would yield the 25 kilograms of uranium metal for a nuclear warhead. Since it began enriching 20 percent uranium, Iran had produced 280 kilograms of this material – well above the Israeli red line drawn by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But it had removed a total of 112.6 kilograms of this 20 percent stockpile, leaving itself with a net total of 167 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium.
  • This changed the entire timeline of the Iranian bomb, pushing it off from the fall of 2012 to a later date.
  • In May 2011, the IAEA raised concerns about the “possible existence” of seven areas of military research in the Iranian nuclear program, the last of which was the most alarming: “the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”
  • In November 2011, material that the IAEA presented pointed clearly to the fact that Iran wanted to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon. The planned warhead design also underwent studies that investigated how it would operate if it was part of a missile re-entry vehicle and had to stand up to the stress of a missile launch and flying in a ballistic trajectory to its target. The IAEA concluded that “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components” had been executed by the Iranians.
  • Iran is not a status quo power. A few years after he assumed the position of Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a revealing interview to the Iranian daily Ressalat, in which he asked a rhetorical question: “Do we look to preserve the integrity of our land, or do we look to expansion.” He then answered himself, saying: “We must definitely look to expansion.”
  • This world view is still sustained to this day. Khamenei’s senior adviser on military affairs, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who was the previous commander of the Revolutionary Guards, described Iran in 2013 as “the regional superpower” in the Middle East.
  • In the meantime, Iran has substantially increased the number of centrifuges that it installed for uranium enrichment. It also introduced its more advanced centrifuges into its nuclear facilities and it is making progress on its heavy water reactor that will allow it to produce plutonium.
  • Iran, so far, has been careful not to cross the Israeli red line, but that hasn’t prevented it from moving ahead on other aspects of its program. Indeed, just after the last P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan, Tehran announced it was building 3,000 advanced centrifuges that it intended to install at Natanz.
  • Thus, if proposals are to be made that protect the international community as a whole from the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, they must address other aspects of the program which might become fully operational
  • in the years to come: the plutonium program, weaponization, delivery vehicles, and continuing upgrade of Iran’s centrifuge technology. If negotiations only halt one aspect of the Iranian effort to reach nuclear weapons, while letting the other parts of the program go forward, they may preclude an immediate crisis, but the world will still face a new Iranian challenge in the years ahead.

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