Iran Partially Suspends Uranium Enrichment
Does this give us any idea who the Iranian theocrats want in the White House for the next, crucial 4 years?
Iran has suspended the enrichment of uranium stockpiles to the 20% purity needed to bring it a short step from building a nuclear device, news services in the region have reported.
Mohammad Hossein Asfari, a member of parliament responsible for foreign policy and national security, was quoted as saying that the move was a "goodwill" gesture, aimed at softening Iran's position before a new round of scheduled talks with the United States after this week's presidential elections.
Asfari said he hoped sanctions would be lifted in return for Iran's actions, otherwise it would resume the programme, according to a website belonging to the Al Arabiya news channel. Talks aimed at halting Iran's enrichment programme have made little progress, leading to the west tightening sanctions and increasing the prospect of military action by Israel.
The Islamic republic's economy has plummeted in the grip of punitive economic measures and Tehran indicated earlier this month that it would be willing to negotiate. However, the offer to suspend enrichment required so many concessions that it was dismissed by the United States.
Iran has a stockpile of 20% uranium weighing just over 90kg (200lb), according to an International Energy Agency watchdog report in August. Experts say between 200-250kg is needed for one nuclear device. Once uranium reaches 20% purity, it is close to becoming weapons grade. Experts have estimated it would take Iran another year to produce a warhead small enough to put on a missile.
Tehran is said to have nearly completed a nuclear enrichment plan with the last of 3,000 uranium centrifuges installed at the underground site of Fordo, near the holy city of Qum.
The machines were working at only half capacity, but the development was a crucial step in developing a nuclear device, the New York Times reported.
One caveat: The announcement appears to have come from Mohammed Asfari. It is always possible given the factionalism of Iranian politics, that Asfari does not speak for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in which case this is all a bunch of hooey. However, Laura Rosen reports that there has been some back channel communication between Tehran and Washington that may eventually lead to direct talks.
The 5,000 centrifuges at the Nantanz facility will keep spinning merrily away, enriching uranium to the 3-5% level so one might ask what good it would do to lift sanctions when Tehran insists on keeping their nuclear options open. Also, recall that we didn't even know the Fordo facility existed -- and neither did the International Atomic Energy Agency -- until September, 2009. We could wonder what other tricks Tehran has up its sleeve with regard to facilities and programs dedicated to constructing an atomic weapon.
The suspension of enrichment to 20% is a transparent ploy by the Iranians to insert themselves in the American election. It's also a superficial concession since it doesn't delay their program, or limit their ability to eventually build a weapon.
No doubt the anti-Israel lobby -- and the Obama campaign -- will hail this nonsense as a "significant" concession and the inevitable calls for removing the sanctions will begin. It has been US policy since 2006 that there will be no talks and no lifting the sanctions until Iran suspends all uranium enrichment. This, they have not done. But for those who have proven that they are willing to enable the Iranian regime in their nuclear ambitions, it will probably be good enough.