'Iran secretly accelerated A-bomb drive'

Islamic republic "going to reach its goal," could be "a step before nuclear weapon stage," analyst says.

Ahmadinejad nuclear 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad nuclear 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran is speeding ahead toward the production of a nuclear weapon, and is operating a shadow nuclear program in tandem with its public program to achieve that goal, a US analyst of the Islamic republic has said, following the publication of a UN report that suggests Teheran already has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb. In a report unveiled in Vienna on Thursday, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had produced 1,010 kg. of low-enriched uranium. The figure includes an additional 210 kg. of low-enriched uranium, a third more than Iran had previously disclosed. The low-enriched uranium would have to undergo further enrichment before it could be used in a nuclear weapon. The IAEA report based its findings on an annual survey by inspectors of Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant. "Because it takes more time to create LEU [low-enriched uranium] than to go from LEU to HEU [highly-enriched uranium], the discovery of the additional LEU suggests that the Iranian regime has accelerated its quest for nuclear weapons capability," Prof. Raymond Tanter, president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, told The Jerusalem Post. The Iran Policy Committee is comprised of former officials from the White House, State Department, Pentagon and intelligence services, as well as academic experts, who believe that Iranian opposition movements should be given a central role in pushing for democratic change in the Islamic republic. "If inspectors had overlooked such a large amount of uranium, it is an additional indication that Teheran operates a shadow nuclear program in coordination with the public one, the latter of which is open to inspection," Tanter said. UN inspectors said the discovery of an additional 210 kg. of enriched uranium was a product of a case of mistaken underreporting by Iran. According to a New York Times report, the inspectors said the the inconsistency was "reasonable for a new enrichment plant [Natanz]." UN officials were dismissive of suggestions that "Iran could smuggle enriched uranium out of the Natanz plant for [further] processing at a secret location," the report added. But Tanter challenged the UN dismissal, saying, "Contrary to explanations by the UN officials, the regime probably smuggled enriched uranium out of the Natanz plant for additional processing at a secret location, such as a military site called Lavizan-2 in the northeastern area of Teheran. "Because Lavizan-2 is a military site, it is my understanding that it is not open to inspection. Buried deep in tunnels, the regime conducts covert enrichment activities at Lavizan-2, operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC]," Tanter said. "The regime has a sophisticated method to hide its bomb-making research and development. The Islamic Republic of Iran hides a secret nuclear program under the cover of a legitimate program to complete the construction of the Bushehr civilian facility. "Materials legitimately acquired for Bushehr are diverted to the covert military program operated by the IRGC," Tanter said. The IAEA report exposed an urgent need for more intelligence on the ground in Iran, Tanter said. He added that "one of the best sources of intelligence about the Iranian regime's quest for nuclear weapons status are Iranian opposition organizations - the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its largest component, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. They first revealed the parallel Iranian nuclear military program in 2002 and continue to make startlingly accurate revelations." The EU recently took the Mujahedeen-e Khalq off of its list of terrorist organizations, but the US has kept the organization on its own list of such groups. Teheran was also swiftly developing missile technology that would enable delivery of any future nuclear weapon, said Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. "Iran is moving full steam ahead, not only with uranium enrichment but missile development as well. It's going to reach its goal - whether nuclear weapons or remaining one step short of them - very soon, or it could be that they are indeed already at the 'one step before' stage," Landau said. "The situation is very serious, and you can see already a certain escalation in statements issued in Israel about the severity of the threat and preparations for the possibility of some kind of action," she said. No substantial diplomatic efforts to put real pressure on Iran had been attempted so far, Landau said. "I'm not very optimistic to say the least, because I don't think the right approach is being taken, and mainly because so much time is slipping away with nothing at all being attempted - the last sanctions were decided upon in March of 2008, almost a year ago - and Iran of course is pushing forward all the time," she said. Landau stressed that "pressure on Iran is not an alternative to engagement, but rather a prelude to it. In other words, pressure is essential to get Iran to be serious about negotiating. But, as I said, I don't see any indication that things are going in that direction." The Foreign Ministry released a statement on Friday saying the new IAEA findings indicated "a continuation of the uranium enrichment project which goes against the Security Council's resolutions, and proves Iran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA's effort to clear up heavy suspicions over the military goals of Iran's plan." Thursday's IAEA report also said that traces of uranium were found at the Syrian site which the international media says was bombed by IAF planes in September 2007. Syria had alleged the the uranium came from Israeli munitions, but UN inspectors said that was unlikely. "Iran and Syria are secretly working on nuclear technology in a manner which risks peace in the region and the world, while blatantly ignoring their international obligations," the Foreign Ministry said.•