Does Iran’s new uranium enrichment threat matter?

Iran announced it was “ready” to make the jump to reaching 190,000 (Separate Work Units) SWU for enriching uranium.

February 11, 2019 11:57
2 minute read.
 Iranians gather at Azadi (freedom) square to mark the 27th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution

Iranians gather at Azadi (freedom) square to mark the 27th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, as they carry a placard in support of Iran's nuclear technology in Tehran. (photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)


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On Sunday, Iran announced it was “ready” to make the jump to reaching 190,000 separative work units for enriching uranium.

Currently, Tehran has some 5,000 centrifuges available to enrich uranium, down from around 19,000 before the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Does this announcement, combined with recent threats to enrich uranium from a 3.67% level to around a 20% level, mean the Iran deal is over and the West and Israel must finally decide between a military option or letting Tehran possess a nuclear bomb?

Not even close.

In fact, it is a repeat threat that the Islamic republic has wielded before whenever there are serious negotiations going on and it wants to pressure the other side.

It means that current negotiations between the EU and Iran over its ballistic missile program and its adventurism in the Middle East and Europe are closing in on a critical juncture.

Throughout 2014-2015 and almost all the way up to when the nuclear deal was finalized, Iran would pull out the threat that if it did not get its way, it would jump to 190,000 centrifuges.

That number is significant because it could allow Iran to enrich sufficient uranium for a bomb much faster than with either its current 5,000 centrifuges or even its previous 19,000.

And it may be that in the last four years, Tehran has made enough progress so that if it decides to break the nuclear deal, it could move faster to building a larger number of centrifuges.

Since the subject is Iran and nuclear weapons, it is true that every development must be carefully followed and taken seriously.
But some healthy skepticism is due – recognizing that this, at least for now, is probably an empty threat designed to try to get the EU to back off seeking Iranian concessions.

For years, Iran has periodically made big statements about developing advanced centrifuges and has even displayed pictures of them.

This would be worse than the threat of 190,000 less advanced centrifuges, because if Tehran could master advanced centrifuges, it would need much fewer machines and resources to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb.

However, in a recent interview with top nuclear weapons expert David Albright, he said that the Islamic republic has been bluffing and that all of its advanced centrifuges – from IR-4 and IR-6 to IR-8 – have failed, including those it has displayed in photos for the media.
The casual observer may be fooled by Iranian propaganda, but the real experts can see through it.

In fact, Iran has not decided to try building 190,000 centrifuges; it is just warning that it can if it doesn’t get what it wants in negotiations with the EU – and its claim of being able to build the machines much faster is questionable.

The last time Iran made the 190,000 centrifuge threat, it signed the nuclear deal shortly afterward, including making new concessions that it said it would never make.

So while intelligence agencies will need to continue following the Islamic republic’s activities to see whether there is a dramatic change, the more important lesson may be that Iran is feeling real pressure to make concessions on its ballistic missiles program and its adventurism in the region.

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