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|Joseph K. Grieboski||June 17th 2009|
Cutting Edge Foreign Desk
"My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology ... that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so." This was the latest conclusion by Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), pronounced in an interview with the BBC. He added, Iran sees nuclear weapons as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats from Israel or the United States.
ElBaradei, whose term of office is to expire in November, said in the interview that countries in possession of nuclear weapons were treated differently from others, citing the example of North Korea, which was invited to negotiations while Iraq under Saddam Hussein -- which did not have a nuclear capability -- was “pulverized.”
As such, continued ElBaradei, Iran “wants to send a message to its neighbors, it wants to send a message to the rest of the world: ‘Yes, don't mess with us, we can have nuclear weapons if we want it.’ But the ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is that they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East—and they are.”
Nuclear weapons technology, asserted ElBaradei, was “the road to get that recognition, to get that power and prestige. It is also an insurance policy against what they have heard in the past about regime change.”
Iran has publicly acknowledged that it is expanding its program to enrich uranium, a potential precursor to building a bomb, but it denies that it is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, saying its enrichment program is for civilian purposes. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—now in a violently contested election—insists that Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Asghar Soltanieh, strongly rebutted ElBaradei: "He's absolutely wrong. We don't have any intention of having nuclear weapons at all.”
Meanwhile, Meir Dagan, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, this week told a Knesset committee that barring technical failures, Iran will be able to launch a nuclear weapon by 2014. Dagan, who spoke to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today in Jerusalem, said Iran will be able to enrich enough uranium to produce a bomb within five years, according to the person, who wasn’t authorized to comment because the briefing wasn’t public.
Independent experts are more pessimistic. Some Iranian enrichment simply needs to be adjusted for less than a year to generate bomb-ready nuclear fuel that can be miniaturized to fit into a warhead.
The Ahmadinejad regime has dramatically increased the centrifuges enriching uranium to 7,200—literally about a third than the IAEA's acknowledged 90 days ago.
Iran has that the expanded capacity is sufficient to help make a nuclear bomb every six months, once the program is ramped up into full weaponization. Thus far, Tehran has amassed more than 1.3 tons of Low Enriched Uranium which when processed by centrifuges can yield up to 25-30 kilograms of High Enriched Uranium). That amount is enough for weapons-grade uranium for an atomic bomb.
ElBaradei said that an even greater threat in Iran’s program was the possibility of an extremist group getting a hold of a nuclear weapon, because the idea of deterrence doesn't apply. The only safe future, he told the British broadcaster, was nuclear disarmament led by existing nuclear powers that, between them, have 27,000 atomic warheads.
Cutting Edge Foreign writer Joseph Grieboski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.