Experts dealing with the Iranian nuclear file told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Iran’s shipment of more than 25,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium to Russia on Monday is not very significant in the big picture.
Under the nuclear accord, certain US, EU and UN sanctions are to be removed in exchange for Iran accepting long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West has long suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb.
“Iran has achieved a major victory by trading away easily- reversible nuclear concessions like enriched uranium and first-generation centrifuges that all can be easily reconstituted,” Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, told the Post.
“Rather than permanently blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways, the deal opens a patient path to a nuclear weapon,” said Dubowitz.
“Tehran simply has to follow the deal to emerge in 10 to 15 years as a much more dangerous adversary with a massive nuclear program, an advanced centrifuge-powered rapid path to a bomb, intercontinental ballistic missiles, regional dominance and its economy immunized against future sanctions,” he added.
A key provision of the agreement, negotiated by Iran with the US, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, is Tehran’s commitment to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to below 660 pounds.
Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and the director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post that while some are celebrating the shipping to Russia of low-enriched uranium, there are issues remaining in the larger context of the deal.
Of course, the removal of uranium from Iran is a step in the right direction, she said, but “it was not unexpected. It wasn’t expected to be an obstacle.”
The reconfiguration of the Arak heavy water reactor so that it cannot produce material for a nuclear bomb is another step that needs to be carried out according to the deal.
However, the overall picture is not good, continued Landau, especially if we take into consideration developments over the past few months, such as Iran’s testing of a ballistic missile, which violated UN Security Council resolutions.
“Iran is testing the waters with the missile test and it drew no firm response,” Landau said.
Furthermore, the INSS expert expressed doubt that thorough inspections can be implemented if Iran is limiting them, especially by not allowing direct access to its military sites.
“Iran obviously advanced the military component of its nuclear program at military bases.”
“By closing the file on past military dimensions of the nuclear program, the IAEA is further weakening its ability to ensure Iran cannot build nuclear weapons down the line,” added Landau.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation board decided this month to close its investigation into whether Iran once had a secret nuclear weapons program, opting to support Tehran’s deal with world powers rather than dwell on its past actions.
The IAEA, in a separate report issued this month, strongly suggested that Tehran had a nuclear weapons program for years, but – in a sign of the shift in ties since Tehran’s deal with major powers in July – Washington said it was not concerned.
In a report required under that deal, titled “Final Assessment of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program,” the IAEA gave its clearest assessment of Iran’s past activities in more than a decade of investigation.
“The Agency assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort,” the IAEA said in the confidential report to its Board of Governors viewed by Reuters.
“What kind of message does it send to Iran that it is closing the file,” Landau asked.
If at some point Iran decides to leave the deal or waits until the deal ends in 10 years, it can replenish its uranium stockpile, she noted.
In addition, she explained, “the deal allows Iran to continue research and development of advanced centrifuges, which down the road could enable the country to replenish its enriched uranium at a faster pace.”
Asked what the next US president could do to better ensure Iran does not get a nuclear bomb, Landau responded that there could be “greater political will for stricter enforcement.”
Also, she said, there are other factors that should be taken into account, such as Tehran’s holding of American prisoners and its ongoing support for terrorism.
Landau does not think it is realistic that a new US administration would renegotiate the deal.
“The Obama administration is projecting that they are willing to close their eyes to what Iran is doing,” argued Landau.
Reuters contributed to this report.