May 24, 2007

The EU is at a dead end over Iran

18:23 | 24/ 05/ 2007

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, thinks that Iran has gone so far in its nuclear program that it is no longer relevant to demand that it should stop uranium enrichment.

Moreover, he believes that since the major world powers have come to terms with a nuclear North Korea, they should do the same towards Iran. It turns out that the head of an organization in charge of monitoring compliance with nuclear non-proliferation is urging the world community to accept the idea that another country will join the nuclear club in the near future.

If this is so, the much-abused Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) may be buried - what's the point of having a treaty that is so easy to breach? Moreover, even the UN Security Council is unable to uphold it.

On March 24, it approved Resolution 1747, providing for tougher sanctions compared with the previous resolution and giving Iran 60 days to stop all uranium enrichment. If you believe Iranian officials, a total of 1,600 centrifuges are currently in operation at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Upon the expiry of this deadline, ElBaradei should submit to the Security Council a report on Iran's compliance with the resolution.

When the resolution was adopted, Iran had two cascades with 164 centrifuges each. Iran has refused to stop uranium enrichment. In order to reach an industrial level of nuclear fuel production for its nuclear power plants, Tehran intends to launch 3,000 centrifuges. The Iranian leaders have declared their intention to have more than 50,000 centrifuges up and running in order to meet the requirements of their civilian nuclear power industry.

This is no bluff. The Natanz facility is designed for 54,000 centrifuges. They will be capable of producing the required amount of nuclear fuel for 20 nuclear units with an aggregate capacity of 20,000 megawatts that are mentioned in all of Iran's plans for its nuclear industry. The first unit is now under construction in Bushehr.

The experience of the Bushehr nuclear plant shows that the construction of 20 one-megawatt units will take decades. This is why experts are wondering why Iran is rushing to get 50,000 centrifuges if it does not even have the technology to handle enriched uranium. The very idea of starting industrial uranium enrichment on 3,000 centrifuges, not to mention the commissioning of the entire enrichment facility in Natanz, is counterproductive.

However, there are other calculations that allow one to look at this problem from another angle. Experts believe that 3,000 centrifuges can enrich uranium to the level of 80%-90% required for one nuclear bomb, whereas 50,000 can accomplish this task in five to seven weeks or two months at most.

These facts allow the West, especially the United States, Iran's main opponent, to accuse Tehran of trying to develop technology for producing weapons-grade uranium.

The world community will soon try to lure Iran back to the negotiating table. The UN Security Council is drafting its third resolution on Iran, and on May 31 Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, will meet Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, for a second round of talks.

However, these talks are giving rise to many questions. It seems that Solana, a skillful negotiator, does not really know what he wants from Iran. In turn, Iran is playing the same game - it does not know what the world should expect from it.

After the first round of the talks in Ankara in the latter half of April, Larijani and Solana reported progress in drawing up a common Iran-EU position. It is clear what progress Larijani had in mind. Since last March, Iran has increased its nuclear-enrichment capacity by five times! Moreover, Tehran adamantly rejects the idea of resuming talks with strings attached - Iran is supposed to stop all uranium enrichment if it wants to return to the negotiating table. The more centrifuges go into operation, the more confident and uncompromising Tehran's tone becomes.

But what did Javier Solana have in mind when he talked about progress?

Maybe, he thinks like ElBaradei, and for him progress means that he has also realized that it is no longer urgent to demand that Iran cease nuclear enrichment activities.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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