Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Iran pushes the nuclear envelope

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Jenna Lifhits

 

Top Iranian officials are boasting that the JCPOA nuclear deal, signed in 2015, enabled the country to make progress in developing advanced centrifuges, and broad production of some advanced models has already begun in the year since the deal was implemented, according to Iranian media.

The nature of these activities indicates that Teheran is likely looking to develop the technology as part of a nuclear weapons program, according to a top proliferation expert who spoke to the Weekly Standard.

"The program from a civilian point of view is just a colossal waste of money," David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, told TWS. "Unless of course the ultimate goal is nuclear weapons. Then the amount of money does not matter."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently said that the deal enabled Iran to develop advanced uranium enrichment technology.

"Critics had been too pessimistic about the restrictions ... on our nuclear industry," he said, according to comments published in Iranian media. "We opted for the shortest possible route, and less costly as well, to secure our nuclear rights in the international community; now we have IR-8 centrifuge machines and they receive injection of UF6" - a uranium compound used during the enrichment process.

The IR-8 is an advanced centrifuge that Albright described as "a creative lemon," likely to fail.

But Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi was also quoted this month saying that Iran had begun "mass production" on another advanced centrifuge model, the IR-6, which has a higher upside.

"The IR-6 is more promising and one where Iran has pushed the envelope in the restrictions," Albright said.

The nuclear deal stipulates limits on Iran's ability to build and operate IR-6s and IR-8s for roughly eight and then ten years. Iran is allowed to continue research and development on advanced centrifuges during this time.

The comments by Rouhani and Salehi parallel those made last month by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who was quoted in Iranian media saying that Iran had "succeeded to make operational the most advanced centrifuges that were just an idea at the time of approving the [nuclear deal]."

"Zarif has, in a sense, been able to generate a fundamental lie about this whole deal, that somehow these centrifuges make economic sense for a civil program," said Albright.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio told TWS that such statements about advanced centrifuge development cement long-standing concerns about the nuclear deal.

"A bipartisan majority of Republicans and some Democrats in Congress warned [that] President Obama's nuclear deal with Iran would enrich the radical regime and ultimately bring it closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, and that is exactly what is happening," Rubio said.

Rubio is a co-sponsor of legislation introduced in March that slaps sanctions on Iran over its non-nuclear illicit activities. The bill has the backing of several pro-Iran deal Democrats.

The Iranians may be making progress on centrifuges beyond what's allowed under the nuclear deal, in part through a so-called "quality assurance" loophole that Iran is exploiting to test centrifuges, Albright said.

"You have this undercurrent where Iran is either violating the deal, it's inconsistent with the deal, or it's just pushing the envelope," he said.

The Obama Administration was not willing to rebuff Iran's inconsistencies with or violations of the deal, Albright added. "There needs to be a really hard push back," he said. "I'm hoping that the Trump Administration will do that, because the Obama Administration just refused."

The Trump Administration has cracked down on Iran's non-nuclear activities, including slapping sanctions on entities linked to the country's ballistic missile program and support for terrorism. Administration officials have pledged to rigorously enforce the nuclear deal.

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