Iran Nuclear Threat Overshadows Talks
The threat of Iran’s illicit nuclear program continues to grow as another round of meetings between P5+1 and Iranian negotiators ends today. Iran refuses to dismantle and end that program while it simultaneously expands its enrichment output and future capacity. Its ongoing enrichment activities at the Natanz and Fordow facilities are increasing its enriched uranium stockpile, which is now large enough to produce fuel for five nuclear weapons after conversion to weapons-grade. Steady 20% enriched uranium accumulation is also reducing the time Iran would need to produce weapons-grade uranium for a warhead. The recent installation of infrastructure, most notably additional centrifuges and support equipment at the less vulnerable Fordow facility, could further shorten Iran’s potential timeline for producing nuclear weapons fuel. The existence of undeclared, covert enrichment sites cannot be ruled out, moreover, given Iran’s deceptive record and the regime’s failure to provide transparency to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran also recently signaled its intent to continue pursuing multiple paths to obtaining nuclear weapons fuel in moving ahead with work on the heavy water reactor at Arak. The Arak reactor will be capable of producing two warheads’ worth weapons-grade plutonium annually once it begins operating.
Iran’s 20% enriched uranium, a growing proportion of which is being produced at the Fordow facility, grew at a constant rate during the last IAEA reporting period; its 3.5% enriched uranium production increased sharply during the same period. Iran would need one month to produce 25 kilograms weapons-grade uranium at the larger Natanz enrichment facility (using its 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium stockpiles) and approximately eight months total to produce 25 kilograms weapons-grade at the smaller, buried Fordow enrichment facility (using its 20% enriched uranium stockpile). Iran has already produced enough 20% enriched uranium with which to produce the 15 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed to fuel a warhead designed with a high level of technical capability in 2-8 weeks.
Iranian negotiators have continued to invoke the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—a treaty they are in standing violation of—as the basis for their supposed “right” to enrichment; the NPT does not, in fact, bestow any right to enrichment. During this week’s initial meeting, Iranian negotiators also reportedly demanded “comprehensive sanctions relief,” despite their failure to address the issues that led to the imposition of sanctions. There is no indication that Iran is prepared to verifiably dismantle its nuclear program (including ending uranium enrichment and heavy water related activities), remove nuclear material from Iran, adhere to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, or cooperate with the IAEA’s ongoing inquiry into Iran’s weaponization work. Even the limited, short-term proposal put forth by the P5+1 aimed at curbing Iran’s 20% enriched uranium production—which would have limited impact on Iran’s ability to quickly produce weapons-grade fuel and fails to address the broader threat posed by the nuclear program—was dismissed yesterday in Moscow by Iran’s negotiator Saeed Jalili in a point-by-point rebuttal.
Iran’s intransigence suggests that the regime will not compromise on its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, despite the impact of recent economic sanctions.