An attack on an Iranian nuclear physicist Saturday may or may not have missed its mark, but the attack is very similar to one eight months ago that narrowly missed Dr. Fereydoon Abbasi, a nuclear physicist.
Following that missed attempt, Iran’s mullahs decided to place Abbasi in charge of the Islamic republic’s nuclear program. The result, experts, is quickening of Iran’s production of nuclear material.
The selection of Dr. Abbasi earlier this year was itself a clear message to the West. As a university scientist, he was barred from traveling outside Iran by the United Nations Security Council because of evidence that his main focus was on how to build nuclear weapons, rather than power plants. But in recent weeks he has publicly declared that his country is preparing to triple its production of a type of nuclear fuel that moves it far closer to the ability to produce bomb-grade material in a hurry
Filtering out the hyperbole surrounding recent proclamations about Iran’s tangible progress is always difficult, especially at a time when the country is determined to show that neither the Stuxnet computer worm, which crippled part of its nuclear infrastructure last year, nor Western sanctions have proved to be more than modest setbacks. Dr. Abbasi himself is rarely seen or heard outside of Iran.
But international nuclear inspectors and American officials say that all the evidence points to the imminent installation of centrifuges at an underground nuclear plant
on a military base near the city of Qum. Iran revealed the existence of the plant in 2009, after learning that the United States and European powers were about to announce that they had discovered the complex, deep inside the Iranian base.
What concerns inspectors and European and American officials is Iran’s announced effort to increase production of uranium enriched to nearly 20 percent purity. Iran insists that it needs that fuel for a medical research reactor. But last week William Hague, the British foreign minister, dismissed that assertion as a cover story.
“When enough 20 percent enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qum,” Mr. Hague said in the British newspaper The Guardian, “it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons-grade material.”