The latest IAEA report and Iran as a “threshold” state

Sep 6, 2012

The latest IAEA report and Iran as a "threshold" state

Update from AIJAC

Sept. 6, 2012
Number 09/12 #01

This Update looks at the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program, as well as other important aspects of the debate about what to do about Iran’s nuclear program.

First up, noted American strategic analyst Anthony Cordesman summarises the key elements of the IAEA report, quoting from the report extensively to do so. He notes that Iran has refused to cooperate with the IAEA on the Parchin site suspected of being used for explosives testing for the nuclear program, has strongly increased its stockpile of both low enriched uranium and uranium enriched to 20% (well on the way to weapons grade) plus the UN has seen signs of even higher levels of enrichment; Iran is making progress on new centrifuges which will make it easier to hide and disperse its nuclear efforts; Iran has continued to substantially expand enrichment at the underground Fordow complex, which is hard to target, plus has announced plans for further vast expansion into enrichment efforts into many more sites; and the agency is getting little cooperation and can offer no assurances about what Iran is doing with respect to its planned Arak nuclear plant, which could be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. Most importantly, the IAEA notes “credible” and recently strengthened evidence that Iran worked on “the development of a nuclear payload for a missile” and “a nuclear explosive device” both before and after 2003 (when a controversial US intelligence report from 2007 suggested such work ceased). For Cordesman’s summary with all the details, CLICK HERE.

Next up, noted Israeli expert and former UN Ambassador Dore Gold looks at the geo-strategic implication, both for Israel and for the West, of Iran achieving “threshold” nuclear status – that is, the ability to build nuclear weapons at short notice. This is, of course, the key difference between the US Administration and Israel in terms of the differing “red lines” they have on stopping a nuclear-armed Iran, as Gold discusses. Gold predicts, among other things, that a “threshold” nuclear Iran will lead to a “bandwagoning” of current US allies into the Iranian camp, effectively making it all but impossible to stop an Iranian effort to move from threshold to full fledged nuclear-armed status later. For his argument in more detail, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, both Gold and another Israeli academic, Ely Karmon, have each separately pointed out that past US behaviour with both Iran and other nuclear rogue states gives Jerusalem good reason to doubt that it can rely on American assurances to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Finally, American columnist Charles Krauthammer takes on those who insist that we know that “deterrence works” from the Cold War, and  argue, therefore, there is no need to be overly concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran. Krauthammer notes that the argument that something “works” is ridiculous without specifying the circumstances – i.e. he notes that the long bow “worked” for Henry V at Agincourt but probably would have been a poor choice at El Alamein. He goes on to note three areas where a nuclear standoff with Iran would differ from the US-Russian one – the nature of the regime, the nature of the grievance, and the nature of the target – which he argues makes it much less likely deterrence would “work” reliably. To read all that he has to say, CLICK HERE.

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Iranian Nuclear Weapons Breakout Capability: The New IAEA Report on Iran

By Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies, Aug 30, 2012

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report today that highlights the growing urgency of successful negotiations, if they are to be an alternative to some form of preventive strike or massive exercise in improving deterrence and military containment. The report makes it clear that repeated efforts by the IAEA have not led to any meaningful progress in revolving the nuclear weapons issues that the IAEA raised in detail in the military annex to its report of November 6, 2011 (Director General’s November 2011 report (GOV/2011/65)).

    As stated in the new IAEA report (Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran (GOV/2012/34), August 30, 2012),

        Despite the intensified dialogue between the Agency and Iran since January 2012, efforts to resolve all outstanding substantive issues have achieved no concrete results: Iran, in an initial declaration, simply dismissed the Agency’s concerns in connection with the issues identified in Section C of the Annex to GOV/2011/65; Iran has not responded to the Agency’s initial questions on Parchin and the foreign expert; Iran has not provided the Agency with access to the location within the Parchin site to which the Agency has requested access; and Iran has been conducting activities at that location that will significantly hamper the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification. Notwithstanding Mr Jalili’s statement referred to above, agreement on the structured approach has yet to materialize.

    The report also notes that, “Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities in the declared facilities referred to below. All of these activities are under Agency safeguards, and all of the nuclear material, installed cascades and the feed and withdrawal stations at those facilities are subject to Agency containment and surveillance.”

    A Growing Stockpile of Enriched Uranium and Some Evidence of Enrichment above 20 Percent

    The end result is a growing stockpile of enriched uranium where the IAEA now estimates the total output from the enrichment facilities of all of Iran’s 16 declared facilities at:

        6876 kilograms (+679 kg since the previous report) of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235; and
        189.4 kilograms (+43.8 kg since the previous report) of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235.

    This stockpile is large enough at the 20 percent level to indicate that Iran can produce significant amounts of weapons grade material over time, although the IAEA does not attempt to make any such projections.

    Major New Centrifuge Programs

    The IAEA also reports that Iran is making significant progress in developing more efficient centrifuges, which would allow it to move forward far more quickly as well as conceal its enrichment efforts more easily, and has three even more efficient centrifuges in development.

    These efforts could make it much harder to detect Iran’s future weapons-grade enrichment efforts and allow it to disperse its enrichment activities more and/or carry them out in much smaller sheltered or mountain facilities than its existing IR-1 centrifuges.

        Since the previous report, Iran has been intermittently feeding natural UF6 into IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuges, sometimes into single machines and sometimes into small or larger cascades. Iran has yet to install three new types of centrifuge (IR-5, IR-6 and IR-6s) as it had indicated it intends to do. Iran has also been intermittently feeding one cascade with depleted UF6 instead of natural UF6.… Between 19 May 2012 and 21 August 2012, a total of approximately 3.4 kg of natural UF6 and 20.3 kg of depleted UF6 was fed into centrifuges in the R&D area, but no LEU was withdrawn as the product and the tails were recombined at the end of the process.

    The Mountain Facility at Fordow

    The IAEA reports further progress at Iran’s mountain site at Fordow—a site Iran initially tried to conceal and where centrifuges are operating in areas deep within the mountain and where some levels of enrichment in excess of 20 percent have been detected:

        The Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) is, according to the DIQ of 18 January 2012, a centrifuge enrichment plant for the production of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 and the production of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235. Additional information from Iran is still needed in connection with this facility, particularly in light of the difference between the original stated purpose of the facility and the purpose for which it is now being used…The facility, which was first brought into operation in 2011, is being built to contain 16 cascades, equally divided between Unit 1 and Unit 2, with a total of approximately 3000 centrifuges. To date, all of the centrifuges installed are IR-1 machines.

        …As of 18 August 2012, Iran had installed all eight cascades in Unit 2, four of which (configured in two sets of two interconnected cascades) it was feeding with UF6 enriched to 3.5% U-235. In Unit 1, Iran had completely installed four cascades and partially installed a fifth cascade, none of which it was feeding with UF6…Iran has estimated that, between 14 December 2011, when feeding of the first set of two interconnected cascades began, and 12 August 2012, a total of 482 kg of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 was fed into cascades at FFEP, and that approximately 65.3 kg of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 were produced, 50 kg of which has been withdrawn from the process and verified by the Agency.

        …With regard to the presence of particles with enrichment levels above 20% U-235…Iran’s explanation is not inconsistent with the further assessment made by the Agency since the previous report…The Agency and Iran have exchanged views on ways to avoid a recurrence of transient enrichment levels above the level stated in the DIQ.

    Plans for Major New Enrichment and Reactor Efforts

    The IAEA also confirms that Iran has also announced that it plans major further increases in those parts of its nuclear efforts that could eventually help it to produce much larger amounts of weapons-grade fissile material:

        …The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided. Iran has not provided information, as requested by the Agency, in connection with its announcement on 7 February 2010 that it possessed laser enrichment technology. As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.

        …H.E. Mr Fereydoun Abbasi, Vice President of Iran and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reportedly made a statement to the effect that Iran plans to build four to five new reactors in the next few years in order to produce radioisotopes and carry out research (‘Iran will not stop producing 20% enriched uranium’, Tehran Times, 12 April 2011). He was also quoted by the Iranian Student’s News Agency as saying “To provide fuel for these (new) reactors, we need to continue with the 20 per cent enrichment of uranium” (‘Iran to build new nuclear research reactors—report’, Reuters, 11 April 2011).

    The IAEA also reports that Iran continues to develop a reactor at Arak that could be used to produce weapons grade plutonium,

        The Agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to Agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided. Iran has not provided information, as requested by the Agency, in connection with its announcement on 7 February 2010 that it possessed laser enrichment technology. As a result of Iran’s lack of cooperation on those issues, the

        Agency is unable to verify and report fully on these matters.

        Since its visit to the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) on 17 August 2011, the Agency has not been provided with further access to the plant. As a result, the Agency is again relying on satellite imagery to monitor the status of HWPP. Based on recent images, the plant appears to be in operation. To date, Iran has not permitted the Agency to take samples from the heavy water stored at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF).

    Iran continues to develop fuel fabrication facilities that can help it develop the capability to make weapons as well as the fuel rods for reactors.

    The IAEA also reports separate activities under a heading called the Military Dimension. It notes that,

        Previous reports by the Director General have identified outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme and actions required of Iran to resolve these. Since 2002, the Agency has become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

        …The Annex to the Director General’s November 2011 report (GOV/2011/65) provided a detailed analysis of the information available to the Agency, indicating that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. This information, which comes from a wide variety of independent sources, including from a number of Member States, from the Agency’s own efforts and from information provided by Iran itself, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that, prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured programme; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing. Since November 2011, the Agency has obtained more information which further corroborates the analysis contained in the aforementioned Annex.

    Nuclear Weapons Design Efforts

    As the IAEA notes, these indicators raise growing questions as to whether Iran ever halted its de facto nuclear weapons program in 2003, regardless of what it may have done with its formal structure. One key indicator is its concealment of the facility at Parchin, which may have been designed to carry out explosive—but not fissile—testing of a nuclear weapons design:

        As stated in the Annex to the Director General’s November 2011 report,41 information provided to the Agency by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The information also indicates that this vessel was installed at the Parchin site in 2000. The location at the Parchin site of the vessel was only identified in March 2011.

        …The Agency notified Iran of that location in January 2012. 42. Satellite imagery available to the Agency for the period from February 2005 to January 2012 shows virtually no activity at or near the building housing the containment vessel. However, since the Agency’s first request for access to this location, satellite imagery shows that extensive activities and resultant changes have taken place at this location. A number of satellite images of the location since February 2012 show: large amounts of liquid ‘run off’ emanating from the building in which the vessel is housed; equipment in open storage immediately outside the building; the removal of external fixtures from the building itself; and the presence of light and heavy vehicles.

        …Satellite imagery shows that, as of May 2012, five other buildings or structures at the location had been demolished, and power lines, fences and all paved roads had been removed. Significant ground scraping and landscaping have been undertaken over an extensive area at and around the location, with new dirt roads established. Satellite images from August 2012 show the containment vessel building shrouded. In light of these extensive activities, the Agency’s ability to verify the information on which

        its concerns are based has been adversely affected and, when the Agency gains access to the location, its ability to conduct effective verification will have been significantly hampered.

        …In a letter to the Agency dated 29 August 2012, Iran stated that the allegation of nuclear activities at the Parchin site is “baseless” and that “the recent activities claimed to be conducted in the vicinity of the location of interest to the Agency, has nothing to do with specified location by the Agency”…The activities observed and Iran’s letter of 29 August 2012 further strengthen the Agency’s assessment that it is necessary to have access to the location at Parchin without further delay.

    More broadly, the IAEA reports Iranian actions that raise growing questions about whether Iran will ever agree to meaningful disclosure, inspection, and other verification measures covering its overall nuclear efforts:

        Contrary to its Safeguards Agreement and relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran is not implementing the provisions of the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement,42 which provides for the submission to the Agency of design information for new facilities as soon as the decision to construct, or to authorize construction of, a new facility has been taken, whichever is the earlier. The modified Code 3.1 also provides for the submission of fuller design information as the design is developed early in the project definition, preliminary design, construction and commissioning phases. Iran remains the only State with significant nuclear activities in which the Agency is implementing a comprehensive safeguards agreement that is not implementing the provisions of the modified Code 3.1. It is important to note that the absence of such early information reduces the time available for the Agency to plan the necessary safeguards arrangements, especially for new facilities, and reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities.

        …Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran is not implementing its Additional Protocol. The Agency will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless and until Iran provides the necessary cooperation with the Agency, including by implementing its Additional Protocol.

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

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The dangers of accepting Iran as a nuclear threshold state

Dore Gold

Israel Hayom,


It has already been noted many times that one key difference between Israel and the U.S. over Iran is that Washington can wait far longer than Israel before it decides that it has no choice but to use force in order to destroy the Iranian nuclear program. In the simplest of terms, while the U.S. can keep trying negotiations and sanctions until five minutes before midnight, when Iran crosses the nuclear finishing line, Israel would have to already act at 11:30. In mid-August, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, remarked “we admit that our are clocks ticking at different paces.”

There are multiple reasons given why the U.S. can afford to wait. The most commonly discussed explanation is the much greater firepower of the U.S. Air Force in comparison with the Israel Air Force. Presumably, against a fleet of B-2 bombers, there is no “zone of immunity” that Iran can create for its Iranian nuclear facilities. Dempsey gave another explanation, “Israel sees the Iranian threat more seriously than the U.S. sees it, because a nuclear Iran poses a threat to Israel’s very existence.”

A third reason given by the U.S. for why it can wait has to do with its confidence that it will have the intelligence it needs to detect that Iran has crossed the nuclear threshold. In early March 2012, President Barack Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.” Perhaps Obama was thinking that as long as Tehran did not kick out the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and shut down their cameras, as it made a final dash to nuclear weapons in what experts call “nuclear breakout,” the U.S. would not have to consider the use of force against Iran.

Although he did not say this explicitly, Obama left open the possibility that in the meantime, Iran could move forward with its program in the coming months, while facing sanctions and diplomatic pressure, as long as it didn’t actually cross the nuclear weapons threshold, it would not face an American attack. As noted in this column previously, there is a huge risk with accepting an Iranian threshold strategy, which former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out in 2010. At that time he said that if Iran reached the nuclear “threshold,” but did not assemble the bomb, the U.S. would not know that it had completed the final assembly of an atomic weapon.

In the meantime, Iran has been working to shorten this threshold phase, making the intelligence challenge even greater. By producing a growing stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, it has cut in half the time needed to enrich uranium to the 90% weapons-grade level. In the meantime, by next spring its stock of low enriched uranium will be sufficient for at least eight atomic bombs, upon further enrichment. In July, the head of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran, Fereydoun Abbas-Divani, boasted that Iran now has the technology to move quickly toward producing weapons-grade uranium.

According to IAEA reports, Iran has been working on warheads outfitted to carry an atomic weapon for the 1300 kilometer range Shahab-3 missile. If all that is left to complete an operational nuclear weapon is a few more weeks of work, then letting Iran reach a threshold capacity is very dangerous for obvious reasons: When nuclear breakout occurs, Iran can quickly build a substantial nuclear arsenal.

But waiting for the very last minute to act against Iran when it actually crosses the nuclear threshold also carries a steep diplomatic price for the United States. Over time, many states, especially in the Persian Gulf, will conclude that the U.S. will never take any action against Iran, even though the Iranian threat is growing. This was illustrated in another interview Goldberg conducted with the UAE ambassador to Washington, Yusuf al-Otaiba, who warned him: “There are many countries in the region, who if they lack the assurance the U.S. is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover towards Iran.”

What the UAE ambassador was essentially saying was that as time goes on, if there are growing doubts about American resolve to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, and Tehran succeeds in “decoupling” (to use a Cold War term) the Arab states from Washington, then the U.S. alliance structure in the Arabian Peninsula might eventually collapse. Students of international politics probably recall the distinction drawn by US academics between states that seek to unite and “balance” a common threat by creating an alliance and states that give up and get on the “bandwagon” of their adversaries. Accepting Iran with a threshold nuclear capacity will eventually result in Arab states getting on the Iranian bandwagon.

Indeed, senior Arab officials in the Persian Gulf point out that Qatar’s alliance with the U.S. began to change after the Bush administration released the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). In particular, many were disturbed by the language used in its summary which contended that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. As a result of the NIE, the Qataris immediately began to doubt the resolve of the U.S. to deal with the Iranian challenge. Consequently, Qatar changed its policy toward Washington, and adopted a pro-Iranian orientation, presumably in order to safeguard its security.

Because of the Syrian crisis, it appears that Qatar has shifted back to the Sunni bloc for now. But that tactical change does not eliminate the fact that there is a big risk for the West if it accepts a threshold policy for Iran: what happened with Qatar in 2007 could easily spread to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states, which would seek to reduce their ties with Washington over time and acquiesce to Iran’s demands for much higher oil prices in OPEC.

For all these reasons, letting Iran reach the status of a nuclear threshold power is a big mistake. In January 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the U.S. objected to Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities and not just to the production of the weapons themselves. But how is the U.S. translating that position into practical policy, especially when it comes to the use of force, when it becomes clear to the White House that diplomacy has reached a dead end? For Iran, Washington’s tolerance of a nuclear threshold capacity allows it to build up the size of its future nuclear forces, to split the U.S. from its Arab allies over time, without having to risk an American military strike. If this situation continues, it will become far harder in the future for any state to stop Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons.

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The ‘deterrence works’ fantasy


By Charles Krauthammer

Washington Post, Published: August 31

There are few foreign-policy positions more silly than the assertion without context that “deterrence works.” It is like saying air power works. Well, it worked for Kosovo; it didn’t work over North Vietnam.

It’s like saying city-bombing works. It worked in Japan 1945 (Tokyo through Nagasaki). It didn’t in the London blitz.

The idea that some military technique “works” is meaningless. It depends on the time, the circumstances, the nature of the adversaries. The longbow worked for Henry V. At El Alamein, however, Montgomery chose tanks.

Yet a significant school of American “realists” remains absolutist on deterrence and is increasingly annoyed with those troublesome Israelis who are sowing fear, rattling world markets and risking regional war by threatening a preemptive strike to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Don’t they understand that their fears are grossly exaggerated? After all, didn’t deterrence work during 40 years of Cold War?

Indeed, a few months ago, columnist Fareed Zakaria made that case by citing me writing in defense of deterrence in the early 1980s at the time of the nuclear freeze movement. And yet now, writes Zakaria, Krauthammer (and others on the right) “has decided that deterrence is a lie.”

Nonsense. What I have decided is that deterring Iran is fundamentally different from deterring the Soviet Union. You could rely on the latter but not on the former.

The reasons are obvious and threefold:

(1) The nature of the regime.

Did the Soviet Union in its 70 years ever deploy a suicide bomber? For Iran, as for other jihadists, suicide bombing is routine. Hence the trail of self-immolation, from the 1983 Marine barracks attack in Beirut to the Bulgaria bombing of July 2012.

Iran’s clerical regime rules in the name of a fundamentalist religion for whom the hereafter offers the ultimate rewards. For Soviet communists — thoroughly, militantly atheistic — such thinking was an opiate-laced fairy tale.

For all its global aspirations, the Soviet Union was intensely nationalist. The Islamic Republic sees itself as an instrument of its own brand of Shiite millenarianism — the messianic return of the “hidden Imam.”

It’s one thing to live in a state of mutual assured destruction with Stalin or Brezhnev, leaders of a philosophically materialist, historically grounded, deeply here-and-now regime. It’s quite another to be in a situation of mutual destruction with apocalyptic clerics who believe in the imminent advent of the Mahdi, the supremacy of the afterlife and holy war as the ultimate avenue to achieving it.

The classic formulation comes from Tehran’s fellow (and rival Sunni) jihadist al-Qaeda: “You love life and we love death.” Try deterring that.

(2) The nature of the grievance.

The Soviet quarrel with America was ideological. Iran’s quarrel with Israel is existential. The Soviets never proclaimed a desire to annihilate the American people. For Iran, the very existence of a Jewish state on Muslim land is a crime, an abomination, a cancer with which no negotiation, no coexistence, no accommodation is possible.

(3) The nature of the target.

America is a nation of 300 million; Israel, 8 million. America is a continental nation; Israel, a speck on the map, at one point eight miles wide. Israel is a “one-bomb country.” Its territory is so tiny, its population so concentrated that, as Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has famously said, “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” A tiny nuclear arsenal would do the job.

In U.S.-Soviet deterrence, both sides knew that a nuclear war would destroy them mutually. The mullahs have thought the unthinkable to a different conclusion. They know about the Israeli arsenal. They also know, as Rafsanjani said, that in any exchange Israel would be destroyed instantly and forever, whereas the ummah — the Muslim world of 1.8 billion people whose redemption is the ultimate purpose of the Iranian revolution — would survive damaged but almost entirely intact.

This doesn’t mean that the mullahs will necessarily risk terrible carnage to their country in order to destroy Israel irrevocably. But it does mean that the blithe assurance to the contrary — because the Soviets never struck first — is nonsense. The mullahs have a radically different worldview, a radically different grievance and a radically different calculation of the consequences of nuclear war.

The confident belief that they are like the Soviets is a fantasy. That’s why Israel is contemplating a preemptive strike. Israel refuses to trust its very existence to the convenient theories of comfortable analysts living 6,000 miles from its Ground Zero.

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