Iran’s not so secret, ‘secret’ fuel plant

By Stephen Gowans

The construction of a uranium enrichment facility by Iran outside of Qum, which Tehran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of days ago, has been seized upon dishonestly by Washington “as a chance to…persuade other countries to support the case for stronger sanctions” against Iran. [1]

Washington is seeking an international sanctions regime to pressure Iran into abandoning its enrichment of uranium. So far Washington has had little success in marshalling the support of Russia and China, whose cooperation is needed for a United Nations Security Council resolution to escalate sanctions against the Islamic republic.

The United States and the European Union want Iran to import nuclear fuel for its power plants, rather than enrich its abundant supplies of domestic uranium itself. While Iran insists its fuel program is for civilian use, the means to enrich uranium at home provides Tehran with a nuclear weapons capability. It’s a short step from enriching uranium for use in commercial reactors to enriching it to a higher grade for use in nuclear weapons.

There are, then, two reasons why Washington wants to force Tehran to abandon its enrichment program:

A. The potential to quickly develop nuclear weapons would equip Tehran with the means to deter Washington and its allies from using the threat of military force to coerce the country into surrendering its independence.

B. Were Tehran forced to look abroad for sources of nuclear fuel, its independence would be sharply limited by Washington’s ability to cut off its nuclear fuel supply.

To advance its aims of securing backing for an international sanctions regime, Washington has accused Iran of secretly building, with the intention of producing weapons grade uranium, an undisclosed facility in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There are a number of problems with this accusation.

1. There is no operating fuel plant. The enrichment facility is unfinished and is not expected to be operational until some time next year. [2]

2. It is not secret. Iran notified the IAEA that it was building the facility days before Washington contrived to use the acknowledgement as evidence of a secret nuclear weapons program. A September 26 David E. Sanger New York Times article ran under the headline “U.S. to accuse Iran of having secret nuclear fuel facility,” inviting the question, how can a nuclear fuel facility be secret, if its existence is already publicly acknowledged? The headline should have read, “U.S. to accuse Iran of having a nuclear fuel facility that was unacknowledged before it was acknowledged.” That The New York Times has taken a tautology and turned it into an apparently damning revelation points to the ever compliant U.S. media’s role as one of equivocation in the service of marshalling support for U.S. foreign policy positions.

3. Under the terms of Iran’s agreement with the IAEA, Tehran is required to report when nuclear material is introduced into a facility, not when construction of the facility begins. [3] Iran reiterated this point with the nuclear agency in March 2007 [4]. When centrifuges (which are used to process nuclear fuel) began to be moved into the unfinished plant, Iran let the IAEA know of the facility’s existence, in accordance with its agreement.

4. Lost amid Washington’s spin is the reality that “even United States intelligence officials acknowledge that there is no evidence that Iran has taken the final step toward creating a bomb.” [5] And yet the Obama administration is treating Iran’s public disclosure of the existence of the unfinished fuel plant as evidence of a secret weapons program. While news reports now suggest that U.S. intelligence “had been tracking the covert project for years” [6] and that the facility is too small to be used for enriching uranium to commercial grade, only two weeks ago The New York Times reported that “new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.” [7] If Iran has deliberately stopped short, then the facility could hardly be intended to produce bomb fuel. Isn’t the construction of such a facility a step in making a bomb?

Not so hidden in Washington’s accusation is a threat of war. United States President Barack Obama announced that “the alternative to (the Iranian’s) giving up their program…is to ‘continue down a path that is going to lead to confrontation.’” [8] Obama added that the ‘secret’ (though publicly acknowledged) Iranian plant “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” [9] This is nonsense, and it is so for all the reasons cited above. But it’s also nonsense for another reason: the real direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime is the United States itself. It tolerates the nuclear arsenals of its allies — not being particularly vexed by proliferation to Israel, India and Pakistan — while threatening non-allies militarily, and thereby providing them with an incentive to acquire nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense.

The true foundation of the nonproliferation treaty is a quid pro quo, whereby nuclear weapons states agree to give up their weapons while non-nuclear states agree not to acquire them. Part of the agreement is that non-nuclear states are to have access to nuclear energy for civilian use, as long as they abide by the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty. Iran has abided by the agreement, though for Washington and the EU, it’s not enough. Iran is expected to renounce its right to an independent civilian nuclear power industry, to prevent it from acquiring the capability of developing nuclear weapons, should it ever need to counter U.S. or Israeli military (and possibly nuclear) blackmail. It also forces Iran into a dependence on the West for nuclear fuel. The selective enforcement of the non-proliferation treaty in the interests of U.S. foreign policy represents the real challenge to the nonproliferation regime.

1. Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti, “Cryptic Iranian note ignited an urgent nuclear strategy debate,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

2. David E. Sanger, “U.S. to accuse Iran of having secret nuclear fuel facility,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

3. Neil MacFarquhar, “Iran’s leader mocks West’s accusations,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

4. “Tehran’s nuclear ambitions: A timeline,” The Washington Post, September 26, 2009.

5. Cooper and Mazzetti.

6. Sanger, “U.S. to accuse Iran…”

7. David E. Sanger, “US says Iran could expedite nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2009.

8. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “U.S. allies warn Iran over nuclear deception,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.

9. Ibid.

One thought on “Iran’s not so secret, ‘secret’ fuel plant

  1. meanwhile: here is israels really secret nuclear bomb making plant, which the IAEA has NEVER been to:


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