Several thousand centrifuges are enough to enrich uranium to 90% and produce a nuclear bomb within a year. Earlier, the Iranians announced their intention to increase the number of centrifuges at the Natanz facility to 3,000; on April 10, after the celebration of the National Day of Nuclear Technologies (April 9), Gholamreza Agazade, Iran's vice president and head of the country's atomic energy organization, said that the plan is to launch 50,000 centrifuges.
Nevertheless, IAEA officials have warned many times that it is not possible to prove that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. This situation is not likely to change. But there is still indirect evidence that what the Iranians are developing is very far from a civilian nuclear industry.
In 2005, Russia made an offer to Iran to enrich uranium for it, and guaranteed that Iranian nuclear plants would be fully loaded with nuclear fuel. Tehran rejected the idea, as well as a package of proposals from the UN Security Council members and Germany. Iran was promised help with its WTO entry, assistance in building nuclear power plants and supplies of new spare parts for worn-out civilian aircraft if it gave up uranium enrichment. But Iran turned down all these tempting proposals for only one reason - it wanted to avoid foreign control over its uranium enrichment. It seems that throughout the talks, Tehran has simply been stalling for time in order to start enriching weapons-grade uranium.
It is clear, though, that Iran does not need the bomb. Whom would it drop it on? The United States is far away, and an attack on Israel would kill not only Jews but also Arabs in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is abundantly clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its aspirations to Muslim leadership, would not dare kill millions of its brethren-in-faith.
The bomb has no practical use. Most probably, Tehran plans to stop at the five-minute-readiness level, that is, one step before the bomb. This would allow the Iranian leaders to enjoy unheard-of prestige at home, dominate the Muslim world, and dictate its terms to the West.
Iran is already talking with everyone from a position of strength because it feels invulnerable and is not afraid of an American attack. The Americans are stuck in Iraq and cannot afford to launch another military land operation. Pinpoint air strikes at nuclear facilities may delay the Iranian nuclear program for several years but will not change the regime.
In any case, the Iranians are not likely to leave the American strike unanswered. They may attack oil refineries in neighboring countries or U.S. military bases in the region. This would be a disaster for the U.S. in Iraq - all the local Shiites who cooperated with the Americans, albeit without much enthusiasm, will turn against them. This would lead to the defeat of the Republican Party in the 2008 presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections. Although George W. Bush may be very tempted to attack Iran, he is not a dictator and will not ignore public opinion and ruin his party.
The Iranians are not afraid of sanctions, either. Those imposed by the UN Security Council are irritating but not very effective. Only an embargo on oil and gas exports would be deadly for Iran, but nobody except the Americans would insist on such a measure, and the Iranians are fully aware of this. Therefore, they can say with a straight face that they will ignore the world community and continue enriching uranium.
The question is what to do after the expiration of the 60-day deadline stipulated by the UN Security Council in its latest resolution on Iran (#1747 of March 24)? It would be logical to adopt an even tougher resolution, but there are fears that stronger measures could compel Iran to quit the IAEA and go on enriching uranium without any control.
But maybe it's worth the risk? Iran is in desperate need of investment, without which its industries cannot cope with domestic requirements. Even though it is a world leader in oil reserves, today Iran has to import 40% of its gasoline. A gradual economic isolation of Iran could be quite effective, probably leading the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. If they did so, they would still be able to save face and say that they never even thought about building a bomb but merely wanted to secure more privileges for their peaceful nuclear industry. "We have not been brought to our knees; we have won," the Iranian leaders would say.
Georgy Mirsky is a senior researcher at the Institute of World Economics and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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