Tehran’s Accelerated March Toward A Nuclear Weapons Arsenal – J-Wire
September 14, 2022 by Dore Gold
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Since the beginning of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West, Tehran has succeeded in giving the impression that it respects the terms of the various agreements reached and that it is the West, and especially the United States, which violated them. The pursuit of this diplomatic strategy had two objectives.
First, blaming Washington for the breakdown of the talks has provided an essential tool for driving a wedge between the United States and its European allies. Secondly, Iran managed to exacerbate the internal debate in the United States on the Iranian question by leaving the impression that the warmongering forces of the American government were fueling the hostility between the two countries and that Iran was the innocent party in this conflict.
But now, as the United States and Iran seem set to finalize a new nuclear deal, an important debate has emerged between the parties that could correct the misperceptions that have arisen in recent years. Indeed, it was Iran that violated the agreements made with the West.
The most glaring issue has been Tehran’s refusal to provide a response to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over uranium particles discovered at three undeclared sites in Iran. In the American tradition, a disarmament negotiation with former adversaries is legitimate if it is based on a credible inspection system. It was President Ronald Reagan who quoted the famous Russian proverb “Trust but verify”. It is here that the Iranians have repeatedly been caught red-handed.
In hindsight, Iran has consistently proven itself to be an utterly unreliable partner for the West. In November 2004, the IAEA determined that Iran had violated its safeguards agreement when it said that many Iranian activities in the fields of uranium enrichment, uranium conversion and plutonium separation had not been reported to the agency. The Iranians sometimes razed six buildings to hide evidence, such as at the Lavizan-Shian complex. They dug the earth around these buildings several meters deep so that offending soil samples could not be taken.
As President Ebrahim Raisi explained on August 29, 2022, the official Iranian position on this issue is short and direct: “Without resolving safeguards issues, there is no point in talking about a deal.
In other words, the disagreement over uranium particles is big enough to wreck the whole nuclear deal.
Moreover, Tehran has nowhere denied the Western accusation. On the contrary, his answer contained an implicit admission that it was largely correct. Since 2018, the IAEA has focused on three nuclear sites: Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad (see map below). The number of suspected nuclear sites could be considerably higher, according to a report published in Foreign Police on August 29, 2022.
Many of the Iranian violations are particularly serious. Under the initial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015, Iran had the right to operate 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges until 2025. Yet, on April 10, 2021, Iran began to testing an advanced centrifuge known as the IR-9, which could enrich uranium 50 times faster than the older IR-1. Nearly three months later, Iran began processing uranium gas to make uranium metal that could be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. It wasn’t allowed to make uranium metal until 2031, according to the JCPOA, but it moved ahead anyway, 10 years ahead of schedule.
This month, the IAEA reported that Iran now has enough 60% enriched uranium to produce an atomic bomb.
What is clear is that Iran is determined to go ahead and build an arsenal of nuclear weapons. This was further demonstrated when the Israeli security services unveiled secret nuclear archives in Tehran which revealed Iranian intentions to revert to the option of building nuclear weapons. Iran has told the international community that it has no such intentions, but records have proven the exact opposite.
Finally, Iranian work on a nuclear weapons program has not been limited to uranium enrichment alone. Already in 2011, the IAEA reported that Tehran was working on the redesign of a “missile re-entry vehicle”. This involved “removing the conventional explosive payload from the Shahab-3 missile warhead” and replacing it with a new payload assessed to be nuclear in nature. Thus, all aspects of a new nuclear arsenal were being developed.
Dore Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations and current chair of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Public Affairs Center.