Archive for August, 2009

“IAEA report validates evidence of military studies, urges Iran to cooperate”

“IAEA report validates evidence of military studies, urges Iran to cooperate”
August 28-31, 2009
     In its latest report on Iran, the IAEA describes evidence of military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program as sufficiently consistent and comprehensive to merit requiring more information from Iran. The report calls for more information regarding studies of high explosives and missile re-entry vehicles, both of which could be used for nuclear military purposes, and a confidential letter on the Green Salt Project [a military program that could link the Revolutionary Guards to the nuclear program]. Although the IAEA “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material”, Iran has yet to implement Code 3.1 [which requires the early provision of design information on new nuclear facilities] or suspend enrichment- and heavy water-related activities as required by the UNSC. The IAEA urges Iran to provide cooperation and implement its Additional Protocol and also writes that the refusal of [Western] states to share more evidence is complicating its verification efforts (IAEA).
     The ISIS writes that while the number of active centrifuges has decreased from 4,920 in June to 4,592, the increased number of total centrifuges (now 8,308) is significant as filling them with uranium is a “relatively minor step”. The ISIS notes that at Iran’s current LEU production rate, Iran will have enough LEU to enrich and produce weapons-grade uranium for 2 nuclear weapons by the end of February 2010 (ISIS). Yossi Melman writes that an unidentified explosives expert mentioned in the IAEA report as having visited Iran is a Russian national (Haaretz).
     Iran’s IAEA ambassador Ali Asqar Soltanieh told local media that the report proves that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful (Fars News Agency), and Ali Akbar Salehi, the new head of Iran’s nuclear agency, stressed that Iran is cooperating with IAEA inspectors and argued that referring the Iranian nuclear file to the UN would be “illegal” and lacking in legal foundation (Agence France-Presse). However, the Iranian daily Tabnak stated that the IAEA report was negative and infringed on Iran’s sovereignty (MEMRI). Israel’s Foreign Ministry has stated that while the report is “harsh”, it does “not reflect all the information possessed by the IAEA” (Jerusalem Post).
IAEA | ISIS | Haaretz | Fars News Agency | Agence France-Presse | MEMRI | Jerusalem Post

“Arab states remain unwilling to directly challenge Iran over nuclear concerns”

“Arab states remain unwilling to directly challenge Iran over nuclear concerns”
August 20-27, 2009
     Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently rejected the idea of joining a US nuclear umbrella [previously covered here], reaffirming Egypt’s support for a nuclear-free Middle East. Fareed Mahdy reports that Mubarak urged US President Barack Obama to gain more legitimacy on the Iranian nuclear issue by pressing Israel to dismantle its nuclear weapons. Mahdy writes that Egypt’s views are widely supported by Arab states, pointing to statements by Arab League head Amre Moussa questioning the existence of an Iranian military nuclear program and stressing Israel’s status as the region’s sole nuclear-armed state (IPS News).
     Peter Kenyon writes that despite having serious concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Arab states hope to avoid confrontation and are unwilling to explicitly align themselves with the US against Iran [previously covered here]. Emile Hokayem believes this is complicating US strategy. Other analysts believe Washington’s attention is shifting toward Afghanistan and Pakistan and that Iran will work to keep the US entangled in Afghanistan (National Public Radio).
IPS News | National Public Radio

“Iran threat continues driving Middle East defense spending”

“Iran threat continues driving Middle East defense spending”
August 25 & 26, 2009
     US think tank Frost & Sullivan expects defense expenditure in the Middle East to exceed $100 billion over the next 5 years, largely due to concern over Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions. Much of the spending will involve packages of US weapons systems announced by the US in 2008 to counter Iran. Saudi Arabia and the UAE hope to strengthen their air power while also purchasing missile defense systems, with the UAE becoming the first foreign customer for the US Theater High Altitude Air Defense System. Israel is hoping to purchase a squadron of F-35 stealth fighter aircraft and 2 new missile ships. Critics believe the arms deals will encourage Iran to increase its militarization [previously covered here] (United Press International).
     In an interview, Martin Bennett, an executive at British defense firm BAE Systems, states that the company is “quite bullish” over prospects for defense spending in the Middle East. Bennett believes spending is currently at a peak that will last a “couple of years more” while Middle East states enhance their air-defense capabilities, and he predicts naval spending will rise as states seek to replace old equipment. Bennett also suggests that the growing UAE market may lead BAE to set up production facilities in that country (Khaleej Times).
United Press International | Khaleej Times

“Considering deterrence, extended deterrence as options against nuclear Iran”

“Considering deterrence, extended deterrence as options against nuclear Iran”
August 12-26, 2009
     In a special series on the Iranian nuclear issue, Mike Shuster writes that in light of the difficulties of preventive war demonstrated in the Iraq War, nuclear deterrence may become a central component of US policy toward a nuclear-armed Iran. Several US analysts argue that the US and Israel could deter Iran from launching nuclear attacks or providing nuclear weapons to its regional proxies, but Gary Milhollin points out that a nuclear capability will nevertheless enable Iran to project more power in the region and increase the risk of strategic miscalculations leading to armed conflict (National Public Radio).
     Shuster also discusses the possibility of US extended deterrence in the Middle East, which was recently alluded to by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [previously covered here], as a measure not only to protect Arab allies but to prevent further proliferation should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon. Joshua Pollack notes that not only could a nuclear umbrella for Arab allies entangle the US in an unwanted regional nuclear conflict, Iran and Syria could capitalize on the situation to foment popular criticism against Arab leaders for relying on the US (National Public Radio (2)).
     David Axe details Israel’s July deployment of 3 warships into the Red Sea and acquisition of 2 new nuclear submarines, arguing that Israel is preparing for preemptive strikes against Iran while boosting its nuclear deterrent in the event that such strikes fail (World Politics Review). Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has declared that Egypt will not join any US nuclear umbrella, stating that the presence of foreign troops in Egypt and the implicit acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power are unacceptable (Global Security Newswire).
National Public Radio | National Public Radio (2) | World Politics Review | Global Security Newswire

“Concessions, positive signals from Iran ahead of IAEA report”

“Concessions, positive signals from Iran ahead of IAEA report”
August 20-24, 2009
     Iran has allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the Arak heavy water reactor, lifting a year-long ban, and agreed to expand monitoring of the Natanz uranium enrichment site ahead of the IAEA’s upcoming Iran report. However, one Western official argues that Iran “always” makes concessions to the IAEA ahead of critical reports in order to avoid punitive action (Guardian). Reza Derakhshi reports that Western diplomats are skeptical of Iran’s latest concessions (Reuters), and a US official has stated that Iran “is still not in compliance with its IAEA obligations” (Reuters (2)).
     Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s decision to retain the “soft-spoken” and “levelheaded” Manouchehr Mottaki as foreign minister has been welcomed by Western diplomats as a sign that Tehran will not harden its stance on the nuclear issue. Ahmad Bakhshayesh argues that Ahmadinejad is seeking continuity in foreign policy amid domestic instability (Los Angeles Times). Michael Slackman also cites the appointment of Ali Akbar Salehi as head of Iran’s nuclear agency [previously covered here] as another sign that Ahmadinejad may be willing to enter international talks on the nuclear issue. Some analysts cautiously speculate that Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may be hoping to improve the economy by avoiding sanctions and regain credibility by resolving the nuclear issue, although political infighting in Tehran could limit the possibility of any such progress (New York Times).
Guardian | Reuters | Reuters (2) | Los Angeles Times | New York Times

“US, Israeli officials accuse IAEA of hiding evidence against Iran”

“US, Israeli officials accuse IAEA of hiding evidence against Iran”
August 19 & 20, 2009
     Barak Ravid reports that unnamed Western and Israeli officials are accusing the IAEA of censoring evidence indicating that Iran may be pursuing a military nuclear program. Officials from the US, France, Britain and Germany are pressuring IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei to publish the information in the IAEA’s next quarterly Iran report. Israel is concerned that ElBaradei will become less responsive to their concerns on Iran ahead of the end of his term in December (Haaretz (1)). Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the top Republican in the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement urging the IAEA to release all evidence on Iran’s nuclear activities and calling for domestic legislation to prevent the IAEA from using US funds to assist in Iran’s nuclear program (House Committee on Foreign Affairs).
     Yossi Melman accuses ElBaradei of excluding or downplaying incriminating evidence against Iran over the past 6 years, arguing that Israel, the US and Britain have been unwilling to share intelligence with the IAEA due to fears that ElBaradei would leak such information to Iran (Haaretz (2)). David Harris writes that such accusations are not uncommon before the IAEA’s quarterly Iran reports, arguing that the IAEA is working hard amidst pressure from various states. According to Shlomo Aronson, Israel believes ElBaradei wants to help Iran create a peaceful nuclear program and the IAEA may allow Iran to pursue a policy of nuclear ambiguity not unlike Israel’s. Harris adds that ElBaradei’s replacement, Yukiya Amano, has indicated he will adopt a similar line to his predecessor (Xinhua).
Haaretz (1) | House Committee on Foreign Affairs | Haaretz (2) | Xinhua

“Repeated resetting of nuclear clock hurting credibility of Israel, US intelligence”

“Repeated resetting of nuclear clock hurting credibility of Israel, US intelligence”
August 19, 2009
     Gal Beckerman criticizes Israeli and US officials for repeatedly pushing back their intelligence estimates of when Iran would produce a nuclear weapon, arguing that such estimates are being manipulated to serve political interests. Beckerman points out that the “threshold” for Iran to obtain a nuclear capability could refer to any of a series of technical steps, such as the production of low-enriched uranium or the development of a nuclear delivery system, and writes that the ambiguity of Iran’s intentions also allows Israeli officials to portray Iran as an imminent threat. Citing US analysts such as David Albright and Gary Sick, Beckerman argues that Iran is seeking a policy of nuclear ambiguity similar to Israeli policy (Forward).
     Joshua Pollack rebuts Beckerman’s article, pointing out that the cited US estimates refer only to Iran’s technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon and in fact state that Iran is unlikely to pursue such a course. Pollack argues that changes in intelligence estimates are better explained by new developments, such as Iran’s suspension of its centrifuge work between 2004 and 2006, and increased insight into the challenges involved in Iran’s nuclear program (Arms Control Wonk).
Forward | Arms Control Wonk