Yesterday, the Associated Press, relying on an intelligence assessment leaked by a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that Iran has conducted tests to determine the feasibility of obtaining highly enriched uranium from waste reactor fuel. The three-page report notes the Iranian leadership has yet to decide whether to proceed with the project, which would be part of a covert effort to further its nuclear ambitions. The tests, similar to those authorized by Saddam Hussein about twenty years ago, took place at a site of other secret Iranian nuclear experiments.
Although the reprocessing of reactor fuel will not give the mullahs enough uranium metal to build a weapon, it will help legitimize Tehran’s program. “It’s the idea that Iran wants to slowly develop nuclear weapons capability under the tent and it does it slowly so that people will accept it,” says David Albright, the Washington proliferation expert. “It’s keeping your head down, moving slowly and deliberately and winning at each step.”
Iran does not have to win too many more steps or prevail much longer. The AP’s source says the country could be as little as six months away from obtaining all the capability needed to build a nuke. Asia Times Online has released a November 1 commentary arguing the Bush administration has every reason to attack Iran after the election and before the inauguration of Barack Obama. It appears from this side of the Pacific, however, that Dubya will not engage in any more military adventures abroad, whether or not the Illinois senator is elected Tuesday.
The President has apparently lost his will to stop the Iranians because he will not confront his Russian and Chinese counterparts, who are blocking effective multilateral action against Iran. Yet just because he ignores the mullahs does not mean the threat they pose has disappeared. On the contrary, that threat grows as time progresses because, even if they do not authorize the uranium-recovery plan revealed yesterday, their weapons technicians continue to work in secret labs and their centrifuges continue to spin, enriching uranium.
Tehran has made it clear that its nuclear program will not be stopped by the United Nations, low energy prices, or popular discontent at home. Some may say the mullahs can be talked out of their program, especially if Washington raises the stakes, and others argue only force or its threat will work. Yet one thing is clear: our government no longer seems to care and has given up trying to eliminate the gravest and most immediate danger to international stability.