COMMENT A new spin on Iran's nuclear fuel
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
As United States president-elect Barack Obama prepares to take over the White
House two months from now, the mainstream US media have been awash reports
about Iran's nuclear "threat" that will likely influence the coming Obama
administration away from introducing any major change in the US's hitherto
coercive Iran policy.
The latest anti-Iran spin is that Tehran has accumulated enough nuclear fuel
for one nuclear bomb and that given Iran's rapid progress in installing more
centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran's nuclear
bomb-making capability will substantially increase in the near future.
Leading the pack in this media endeavor for a Chomskyian
"manufactured consensus" on Iran's nuclear threat is the nation's leading
newspaper, the New York Times. Although known as the voice of the liberal
"eastern establishment", the Times is perceived by many as a pillar of support
for pro-Israel global public diplomacy and, therefore, it comes as little
surprise that the respected newspaper may have been churning out alarmist and
misleading articles about Iran's purported nuclear threat.
Case in point, in a high-profile article by two veteran reporters, William
Broad and David Sanger, the paper claimed as per the expert opinion of various
nuclear scientists, that Iran had already amassed "nuclear fuel for one
weapon", to paraphrase the article's catchy title, and that, naturally, would
be a serious problem for the upcoming Obama administration.
But does it? The article does not mention the following important, and highly
relevant facts: 1. Iran's nuclear fuel is kept in containers sealed by
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 2. As stated by Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the
Natanz facility is under the surveillance of IAEA cameras 24 hours a day, seven
days a week. 3. Contrary to misleading claims by various US nuclear experts such as
David Kay, a former weapons of mass destruction inspector, there is no evidence
that Iran has gone beyond low-grade enrichment of uranium to the point of
"weapons-grade" enrichment. In fact, the various IAEA reports confirm the
fallacy of such unsubstantiated claims, routinely featured in Israeli papers'
biased reports on Iran. 4. Nor do the reporters give more than cursory attention to the content
of recent IAEA reports on Iran, which confirm the agency "has been able to
continue to confirm the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran". 5. Another major flaw in Broad and Sanger's piece is that they
deliberately underestimate the technical challenge of leaping from low-level
enrichment to weapons-grade to a simple matter of "further purification". 6. The fact that the IAEA is well-equipped to uncover any attempt by
Iran to engage in weapons-grade enrichment activities is mentioned only in
passing, without influencing the gist of the article and the planned paranoia
lurking behind it.
7. Finally, the whole argument that Iran's ability to produce nuclear
fuel represents a "threat" warranting sanctions and other coercive
counter-measures by the world community falls by the wayside in light of the
legal framework of Iran's nuclear activity under the articles of the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and Iran's nuclear transparency mentioned
Instead of focusing on the objective guarantee of Iran's peaceful uranium
enrichment activities, the reporters deliberately hyped up the perceived threat
of a "nuclear breakout" via future scenario-setting of "if" Iran exits the NPT
and terminates its cooperation with the IAEA, as if the US and other Western
governments should engage in "pre-emptive" policy vis-a-vis Iran on the basis
of such theoretical guesswork. Of course, the absurdity of the "inevitability
of a nuclear weapon capable Iran" speaks for itself. Nothing is inevitable in
world affairs and such deterministic analysis are inherently wedded to dogmatic
assumptions about what is otherwise a highly fluid situation.
Given Iran's possession of dual purpose nuclear technology, although the
potential for a future break out is inherently nested in this technology, there
are several important intervening variables missing, without which this
potential would not be actualized - one being the absence of a nuclear threat
to Iran warranting Iran's reaction to go nuclear.
Sure Russia, Pakistan, India, China, and Israel have nuclear weapons, but none
poses a nuclear threat to Iran, not even "out of area" Israel. If anything
Iran's main fear today is the future break-up of Pakistan and the threats of
Sunni extremism in Pakistan, but this is a low to medium level concern and not
by any means blown out of proportion. Tehran remains confident about the
ability of Pakistan's government to fight off the extremists and prevent them
from accessing its nuclear arsenal.
With respect to Israel, some 1,500 kilometers distant from Iran's national
borders, it is hard to digest the argument that Iran needs nuclear bombs to
counter Israel's nuclear arsenal, principally because as Iran's President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself has repeatedly stated, Israel's bombs did not help
it win the latest war in Lebanon nor have they been a factor in its previous
wars with its Arab neighbors. So why should they be a factor of concern for
Iran now? The absence of a credible answer is, in fact, one main reason why
Iran is not racing to manufacture nuclear warheads today.
As for the US military threat against Iran, in light of the US military
quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the overstretched nature of the US
military. Tehran does not foresee an imminent threat of confrontation with the
US, despite the occasional tensions over the "turf war" in Iraq and elsewhere
in the region.
On the contrary, the mere post-9/11 proximity of US forces with Iran has
translated into a qualitative deepening of diplomatic and security dialogue and
interactions between the two countries and, henceforth, with the help of more
Cold War style confidence-building measures, the tensions between Washington
and Tehran can be lessened considerably.
What both Washington and Tel Aviv fail to realize is that their own action, of
constantly threatening Iran with nuclear attacks, is tantamount to playing with
fire. Such threats heighten Iran's sense of national security vulnerability and
chip away at the latency of Iran's nuclear potential. In other words, the
perceived remedy of issuing threats in the hope of thwarting Iran's march
toward nuclear bombs has the exact opposite effect of poisoning the climate
where Iran feels safe enough not to go beyond its reliance on conventional arms
and acquire the actual bombs.
To return to the New York Times, a number of its columnists, such as Thomas
Friedman and David Brooks, have also been fully involved in cultivating the
perception of an "Iran threat". In Friedman's recent column titled "Show me the
money" he takes this for granted and takes European, and the Russian and
Chinese governments to task to prove their support for Obama by imposing
tougher sanctions on Iran.
This aside, in light of the news of the impending selection of the ardently
pro-Israel senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, as Obama's secretary of
state, we are unlikely to witness any moderation of anti-Iran bias in
Washington, influenced as it is by the incessant wheels of the "Fourth Estate".
Needless to say, hardly enough of this is encouraging and, indeed, is rather
depressing and despairing of the hope that true change is coming to the
practice and orientation of US foreign policy. The sheer speed of
"over-Clintonization" of the Obama administration, reflected in the selection
of so many officials linked to the Clinton "circle", none of whom can be
regarded as agents of change, alone indicates that the hope for an Obama-led
change in US foreign policy may be a hope against hope.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.