U.S. Envoy Warns Iran Is Almost Capable of Building Atomic Bomb
September 10, 2009 - 4:41 AMWith a deadline to cooperate or face tougher sanctions fast approaching, Iran has presented a new "proposal" relating to its nuclear program to a group of leading governments.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called envoys from six countries to the foreign ministry in Tehran Wednesday to receive a copy of the document, details of which have yet to be released.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – plus Germany (P5+1) are considering new sanctions if Iran does not respond by late this month to an offer, presented last April, to return to talks on its suspect nuclear activities.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounded a defiant tone on Monday, saying the matter was closed. Two days later, however, Mottaki handed the new proposals to representatives of the P5+1, with the Swiss ambassador, whose country looks after Washington’s interests in Iran, standing in for the U.S.
Iran’s response came on the same day that a U.S. envoy told the United Nations nuclear watchdog that Iran was nearing “breakout” capability – the point at which it could, if it took the decision to do so, build an atomic bomb.
“Iran is now either very near, or in possession already, of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade,” U.S. ambassador Glyn Davies told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors in Vienna.
Davies noted that the latest IAEA report on Iran’s program indicated it now possessed at least 1,430 kilograms (3,152.6 pounds) of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEU). (According to the report, 839 kgs were produced in the Feb. 2007-Nov. 2008 period, and 591 kg between Nov. 2008-Aug. 2009, a considerably shorter period.)
Davies said Iran was continuing to enrich uranium despite the fact the activity was prohibited by three U.N. Security Council resolutions.
LEU fuels nuclear power reactors while uranium enriched to high levels is a key ingredient for an atomic bomb. Iran contends that its program is for peaceful power-generation purposes, but a six year-long IAEA investigation been unable to verify whether the program is solely peaceful as Tehran claims.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) assesses that Iran last February had sufficient LEU to be able to use as feed to produce the amount of weapon-grade uranium needed for one nuclear weapon. At its current daily rate of producing LEU, it said, it would have enough by next February for two nuclear weapons.
ISIS estimates that, from the time a decision is made to enrich to weapon-grade, it would take Iran 3-6 months to accomplish the task.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told a press briefing that the U.S. would review the latest Iranian proposal “seriously and carefully” and discuss it with its P5+1 partners, probably in a conference call at political director level.
He said what would be looked for in the proposal was whether it responded to the P5+1 offer to engage, and how it addressed “longstanding concerns of the international community about Iran’s failure to comply with its Nonproliferation Treaty, IAEA, and Security Council obligations.”
“We’ve made it clear to Iran that the choice really is theirs to make,” Kelly said. “They have a stark choice: They can continue down this path of isolation from the international community, or they can choose to reintegrate with the international community.”
In a hint of what the proposal contains, Ahmadinejad told reporters earlier that it included ways to achieve global nuclear disarmament, the Tehran Times reported.
Allies rally round
Meanwhile, Iran has again won the support of the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
In a statement released at the IAEA meeting Wednesday, the bloc of developing states said that all disputes over Iran’s nuclear activities “should be resolved within the IAEA framework, and be based on technical and legal grounds.”
Iran’s allies have long called for the issue to be handled by the IAEA, rather than the Security Council. Fifteen of the IAEA board’s 35 members (42 percent) are also members of the NAM, and nine of those 15 are fellow members with Iran in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
NAM also backed an Iranian proposal for a global ban on “attacks or threat of attacks on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
Although the IAEA passed resolutions prohibiting attacks on “nuclear installations devoted to peaceful purposes” in 1983 and in 1990, Iran wanted the matter on the agenda again this year, in a move evidently linked to speculation that Israel may launch a preemptive strike as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007.
NAM said in its statement that a prohibition of attacks should be contained in “a comprehensive multilaterally negotiated instrument.”