Analysis: Iran, West deceiving each other about nuke program

Iran under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty advances step by step toward military nuclear status, disguising its intentions all along the way.

ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: AP)
ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: AP)
In a January 31 television interview, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced out of the blue that Iran had agreed to the uranium exchange deal that it had rejected repeatedly since October 2009. This announcement came several days after it was reported that the US was deploying missile defense systems in the Gulf.
However, on Sunday, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would begin to enrich uranium by itself, to a level of 20 percent, and that it had attained laser technology for uranium enrichment.
The Iranian daily Kayhan, which is close to Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei, even declared that once Teheran enriches uranium to 20%, the West will not be able to stop it at that level of enrichment, and would have to negotiate with Iran over higher levels of enrichment.
These developments reveal deception by both parties – Iran and the West – vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Iran under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty advanced step by step toward military nuclear status, disguising its intentions all along the way.
As for the West, it is presenting its policy as aimed at helping Iran, while its diplomatic measures, and especially the uranium exchange deal, are really aimed at hampering Teheran’s nuclear progress. This deepens Iran’s distrust, for it understands the proposal’s real purpose.
Why won’t Iran hand over its uranium?
In the past months, Iran has adamantly rejected the proposal that the West presents as aimed at helping it by providing it with 20% enriched uranium for its research reactor in Teheran.
The reason for this refusal is that, according to the West’s intention, the uranium handed over would indeed be enriched to a higher level, but at the same time would be altered so that it could not be enriched further for military use – and this is a deal that Iran refused to accept.
In their public statements, Iran’s spokesmen do not bring up this point, but they have stated repeatedly that they do not trust the West. For example, Majlis speaker Ali Larijani warned at a February 6 conference in Teheran that the West was trying to deceive Iran with the nuclear deal but that the West should know that his country is not falling for it: “The truth is that you [Westerners] are conducting a sort of political deceit in order to separate Iran from [its] enriched uranium... But you need to know... that the Iranians are not naive.”
It should be further noted that Iran has no need for 1,200 kg. of 20%-enriched uranium, which is the quantity arbitrarily set by the West in the deal. The Teheran research reactor requires only 30 kg. of 20%-enriched uranium for its operations, and this quantity is equal to about 400 kg. of 5%-enriched uranium; furthermore, this quantity will last it until the reactor ceases to be operational, in about a decade.
Iran’s position is that if the West does indeed want only to help Iran, as it says, then Teheran does not need to enrich more than 400 kg., but the West is demanding that Iran hand over 1,200 kg., which constitutes 75% of its enriched uranium stock. This demand proves that the West wants to maintain its nuclear military hegemony and to prevent Iran from attaining military nuclear status. For this reason, Iran is adamant that it will not hand over its strategic reserves to the West.
The position presented in recent days by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki focuses on the ongoing dispute between Iran and the superpowers vis-à-vis the quantity of lower-level enriched uranium that Teheran would hand over for enrichment.
At the 46th Munich Security Conference (February 5-7), Mottaki portrayed as likely Iran’s acceptance of a deal, and said that it and the IAEA had already agreed to the nuclear deal with a third country and that all that remained was to set the time, place, and quantity of uranium that Iran would hand over. However, he stressed that “it is the Iranian side that will set the scope [of the uranium] exchange [deal], with attention to its own needs” and that “the quantity of nuclear fuel [enriched to 3.5% that Iran will agree to transport from its territory] will be in accordance with Iran’s needs, and the moment that Iran announces what this quantity is, the deal will be able to go ahead.”
Nevertheless, an Iranian official told the Iranian news agency Fars that Teheran had not changed its position toward the deal proposed at the Vienna conference, on October 19-21, 2009, despite reports in recent days about a “softer” stance being adopted vis-à-vis the proposal.
In addition, Ahmadinejad announced in an interview on Iranian television that Teheran does not oppose an uranium exchange deal outside Iranian soil, adding that circles in Iran had raised an unnecessary stink over the issue; however, he ignored the issue on which Iran and the West disagree – that is, the quantity of enriched uranium that Teheran is willing to hand over.
Ahmadinejad: I ordered 20% enrichment
At the same time, in a step typical of Iran’s nuclear policy, Ahmadinejad launched a new phase in Teheran’s struggle against the superpowers with his defiant February 7 declaration that he had already ordered the start of 20% uranium enrichment – thus obviating the need for dialogue with the West or for compliance with the nuclear deal.
At the same venue, a conference titled “Iran’s Laser Technology Achievements,” Ahmadinejad said: “I ordered the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization [Ali Akbar Salehi] to begin enriching uranium to 20%, but the path of dialogue remains open.”
He added: “Iran has attained the ability to enrich uranium using laser technology, and with this method it is possible to perform enrichment faster and more accurately, and to any [enrichment] level – but actually we do not plan to use this method.”
He continued, “Of course, if these countries [i.e. the 5+1] come to us without preconditions, the way to an exchange deal is still open.”
The next day, Salehi said that on February 9, Iran would begin to enrich uranium at 20% at the Natanz facility, and that despite its ability to enrich uranium to any level it desires, Iran preferred the option of acquiring the nuclear fuel plates from a foreign country. In addition, he declared that Iran would construct, within the year (i.e., by March 2011), 10 uranium enrichment centers.
The conservative daily Kayhan, which is close to Khamenei, even stated in a February 9 editorial that the West had missed the opportunity to stop Iran at 5% enrichment, and that the minute Iran enriches uranium to 20%, the West will not be able to stop it from advancing further. At that point, Iran will not agree to stop at 20%, and the negotiations will be over enrichment to a higher level.
It should be noted that Iran possesses 1,600 kg of 5%-enriched uranium (5% is the level permitted under IAEA regulations for generating power; the country must announce that it will be enriching it and must obtain advance approval). However, it is continuing its intensive work to enrich more uranium, even though it has no plant or nuclear reactor that requires such quantities of enriched uranium for operation. Furthermore, the Bushehr reactor, which has not yet begun operating, does not require locally enriched uranium, because under the agreement that Iran signed with Moscow in 2005, Moscow is providing the fuel rods to operate it, and Iran has been receiving them since 2007.
In these circumstances, it is very peculiar that Salehi announced that Iran will construct 10 additional uranium enrichment centers; it means that Iran can be suspected of enriching uranium for military purposes.
The West’s weakness
Again and again, the West has called on Iran to accept its ultimatums,which Iran knows are toothless; this approach exposes the West’s, andparticularly the US’s and Europe’s, inability to deal with Iran onvital issues of global security and stability.
The West’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge that the “deal” thatit proposed is not really aimed at helping Iran, as it claims, butrather at preventing Iran from using the enriched uranium for militarypurposes, strips the West of its credibility vis-à-vis Teheran.
The writer is director of MEMRI’s Iranian Media Project.
The Middle East Media ResearchInstitute is an independent, non-profit organization that translatesand analyzes the media of the Middle East.