The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.
As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.
The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.
The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.
In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.
What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.