The enriched uranium is low grade, can be used for nuclear power plants, but can be further refined.
By MEIR JAVEDANFAR
According to an article published Thursday in the New York Times, "Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts."
And where do the experts get their information from?
"The figures detailing Iran's progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country's main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium."
However, all hope is not lost.
First and foremost, Iran would have to further purify the fuel and turn it into a warhead design. The Times report says that this is "a technical advance that Western experts are unsure Iran has yet achieved."
One must not forget that the enriched uranium is low grade. For now, it can be used for nuclear power plants. However, it can be further refined into higher grade uranium. To do that, enrichment facilities at Natanz would have to go through major visible reconfigurations. For example, all the piping infrastructure will have to be redone. This would make it very difficult for Iran to hide from the IAEA inspectors.
Unless, that is, there are secret facilities where the low enriched uranium is purified, away from the eyes and knowledge of the IAEA. And this is very possible.
So where do we go from here?
With Russia and China refusing to back further sanctions, all that remains diplomatically is for incoming President Barack Obama to try and use direct negotiations. Unless there is a miracle and the Russians and Chinese join in, there is little else that can be done diplomatically.
This is why it's so important that the talks between the two sides succeed, for Israel's sake too. A negotiated settlement would be the best solution for Jerusalem. Not only because Israel has concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Also, because a US rapprochement with Iran in such a scenario, and the confidence building, could help find a solution over disputes in Lebanon and Gaza.
If talks fail, the US could also take unilateral sanctions, the most powerful of which could be sanctions against the Iranian Central Bank (Bank Markazi). With oil prices falling, and reports that Iran will face a $60 billion budget deficit next year, this may force Ayatollah Khamenei to take negotiations seriously.
One can not also help but notice that such reports help those who want a military solution. This may not be around the corner; however, it is there. Even when Obama enters office.
Many have accused the Democrats of being too timid and too compromising. That's not true. The difference with them is that they are likely to give negotiations a serious chance, before reaching out for their guns. And if they do, they won't do it alone. Just ask Slobodan Milosevic.
The writer is the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran, and runs the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas).
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