On a visit to Paris, Iranian President Mohammad Khatamei expressed his belief that Iran and the EU-3 are closer to an agreement that would permit Iran to maintain its nuclear technology development efforts without further review by the UN Security Council. Khatamei believes that Iran’s latest counter-proposal presented to negotiators last month has been more openly received by the EU-3, particularly France. What was significant about this proposal?
Iran requested that they be permitted to maintain a “pilot” enrichment facility incapable producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bomb making purposes, and yet, a face saving measure that would maintain Iran’s efforts to understand and master the technology. Why would we oppose such a move, or more specifically, why would I?
The answers are many, so for brevity, I’ll limit my response to a few more on point issues. First up, Iran has not abided by the conditions of the NPT or IAEA inspections as it is obligated to do. That alone gives me much reason to doubt that Iran would abide by any new agreement to limit the scale of its efforts. Additionally, Iran has a contractual obligation to return spent fuel to its initial provider, in this case Russia. The idea that a complete fuel cycle is required for the “understanding” of the technology is a misnomer at best. In the worst case, it is that Iran seeks to understand the cycle so that it may develop nuclear weapons based on the HEU it could ostensibly gain through the use of centrifuges. And then there is the Iranian heavy water reactor near Arak.
Unlike the light water reactors that gain most of the attention, such as the one in Bushehr, the spent fuel from the heavy water reactors is much more readily used for weapons development. The residual spent fuel from light water reactors require the extensive use of centrifuges to collect or create the HEU. Heavy water reactors produce plutonium. The Iranian resistance organization, National Council of Resistance, believes that Arak will be fully operational within two years and will produce 22 pounds of plutonium per year. Iran says the facility is set for completion by 2014 and will be used to develop radio isotopes for medical purposes.
What we know is that Iran has 40 tons of spent fuel that has been processed, prior to their cessation of such activities per their agreement with the EU-3, and that they processed that spent fuel without the approval or supervision of the IAEA or its inspectors. Believing that they’ve done so only to gain the knowledge of how to do it, or to reuse the fuel is not only naïve but potentially deadly.
The Bush administration has my support in its efforts to end the standoff, including the willingness to back the EU-3’s negotiations. That being said, there are many issues that prevent me from being optimistic and there are many conditions that are not, and should not be on the table. Iran must end their enrichment efforts permanently, cease their heavy water reactor efforts, and once and for all open their facilities to full and permanent IAEA oversight. Not likely, and therefore once again I say its time to take the issue to the UN Security Council.