Neonuclear: The hottest fashions of the season

By Tom Lynch

Nuke bombs: we have ‘em, Israel has ‘em, India and Pakistan have ‘em, and Iran and N. Korea are developing them, or have them already. Iran says they want nuclear power for energy and medical purposes, but they’re not cooperating with IAEA inspectors. N. Korea is bonkers—even China’s been backing down from being its designated driver lately.  I once wrote an analysis of the Iranian situation for a political science class; here it is, I am the authority on Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, under Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is accelerating its nuclear program despite the economic sanctions currently imposed on it by the U.S., China, Russia, France, the U.K., Germany, and others.  Two weeks ago, those six countries sent representatives to Kazakhstan for talks with Iranian nuclear negotiators, which took place Feb 26th-27th. The talks were the first to occur in eight months.  The framework of a hypothetical agreement was that the “P5+1” (referring to the permanent voting nations of the UN Security Council, along with Germany) would mitigate sanctions (allow Iran to trade in precious metals) so long as Iran in return allowed third party inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and ceased enrichment of its highest-grade uranium.

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On Feb. 23rd Iran made the non-independently-verified claim to have found new uranium deposits along its northern and coastal regions, tripling its prior supply and by that date had also installed 180 additional next-generation centrifuges at Natanz, allowing them to enrich uranium much faster—the IAEA states that Natanz has the capacity for up to three thousand of the new smaller centrifuges.  The U.S. interprets Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20% purity as evidence of intent to construct bombs in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have continually denied that charge, insisting that Iran’s nuclear purposes are peaceful but also declaring publicly that Iran would not bend to Western influence if it were in fact trying to produce weapons.  The threshold of 250 kg of uranium to construct one bomb has apparently not been reached, although the new centrifuges will hasten that process.  On March 3rd state media announced Iran to be moving ahead in its production of the three thousand centrifuges.  (Why does the U.S. care about this? Iran undermining U.S. hegemony in the Mid-east, oil prices, maybe they’ll irradiate the Holy Land and Israel’s on our team, etc.)

The sanctions placed upon Iran have succeeded in driving up inflation almost 50% and have significantly decreased oil revenues. China, Iran’s most prominent remaining trading partner, has decreased its import of Iranian oil by half.  The European sanctions have resulted in the loss of between $4 and $8 billion monthly; for comparison, state oil revenues from the entire year of 2010 totaled $78 billion.  So, the sanctions appear effective. Iran is demanding the immediate removal of the sanctions prior to any nuclear deal. Ayatollah Khamenei has implored Iranians to endure the sanctions brought on by the U.S., and Ahmadinejad has declared through state media that he is willing to enter into direct talks at any time. The June presidential elections are three months away and Ahmadinejad seeks to strengthen his credentials, as do his soon-to-be electoral competitors—nuclear program negotiations are seen as a prestigious responsibility.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated a “red line” which Iran fast approaches in its nuclear progress, past which Israel will attack.  The Israelis view Iran’s support for talks as stalling for time to complete weapons.  Iran, in turn, has threatened to cut off the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of the world’s oil travels if further antagonized.  Moreover, an Iranian-Israeli or Iranian-Saudi conflict would impact oil supply, in pessimistic scenarios doubling oil’s price and resulting in up to an 8% decrease in U.S. GDP, correlating to 5 million American jobs lost.  (Those econ numbers are from a think tank that wants the U.S. to attack).

Tom Lynch can be reached at [email protected]