In case the West didn’t get the message last week during the latest round of the P5+1 nuclear talks, Iran is making sure President Obama and other leaders understand that they mean what they say about their determination to pursue their nuclear ambitions. Reuters reports that yesterday on what the Islamist regime calls National Nuclear Technology Day, Tehran announced that operations had begun at two uranium mines and a milling plant. If that wasn’t enough to set off alarms in Washington as well as in Jerusalem, the Iranians also made it clear they had no intention of stopping the refinement of high-grade enrichment uranium that could be used for bombs.
Western negotiators had arrived at the talks in Kazakhstan last week hopeful about a positive Iranian response to concessions made at the previous session in February. But when the Iranians ignored the Western proposals—which would have loosened sanctions and allowed them to keep a nuclear program in exchange for stopping uranium enrichment—they were “puzzled.” But the Iranian strategy isn’t much of a mystery. They believe they can continue to stonewall the West by running out the diplomatic clock until they get their bomb.
The commencement of mining at the two new facilities as well as the milling plant won’t mean anything in the short-term rush to produce a weapon, but it shows Iran is in the nuclear business for the long hall. The yellowcake or raw uranium derived from the mines is desperately needed as their supply of material is limited. While Reuters says the uranium at the Saghan and the Ardakan mines is low-grade and expensive, it will nevertheless expand their stores of the mineral in the face of international sanctions that have made it difficult to procure it elsewhere. While these mines cannot supply Iran’s needs indefinitely, they could be enough to keep their program going and keep them relatively self-sufficient until they obtain a small stock of nuclear weapons that would change the strategic equation in the region.
The timing of the announcement is also telling.
By demonstrating that it has no intention of either slowing the refinement of existing stores of uranium at its underground mountain bunker facility at Fordow, as well as by working to keep their centrifuges supplied with yellowcake in the future only days after leaving Western diplomats looking foolish in Almaty, Iran is showing that it isn’t bluffing about persevering in the face of economic sanctions. Moreover, by once again humiliating the West in the talks, the Iranians are also announcing that they don’t take President Obama’s threats seriously about there being a limited window of time for diplomacy to succeed and that all options, including the use of military force, are on the table.
If Iran truly believed the U.S. was prepared to use force to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, they might be seriously negotiating rather than repeating their pattern of using diplomacy as a delaying tactic. While President Obama has been escalating his rhetoric about Iran in the last year as he has ruled out containment as a strategy and vowed repeatedly never to allow it to gain a weapon, he has continued to pursue a diplomatic solution. While experts differ as to whether the a tipping point will be reached in months or a year before it will be difficult, if not impossible, to stop the Iranian program, there’s no doubt time is rapidly running out and the P5+1 talks are doing nothing but giving the Iranians confidence that they can indefinitely string out their negotiating partners.
The nuclear day events in Tehran are just one more indication that the moment of truth is fast approaching when the president will be forced to either make good on his vows or implement the same dangerous containment scenarios that he has already said would be too dangerous to contemplate.