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Report: Iran “Ready” To Build Nuclear Bomb

by @ 12:56 pm on August 3, 2009. Filed under Foreign Affairs, Iran

There’s another report out there claiming that Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power:

Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.

The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.

A US National Intelligence Estimate two years ago concluded that Iran had ended its nuclear arms research programme in 2003 because of the threat from the American invasion of Iraq. But intelligence sources have told The Times that Tehran had halted the research because it had achieved its aim — to find a way of detonating a warhead that could be launched on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles.

They said that, should Ayatollah Khamenei approve the building of a nuclear device, it would take six months to enrich enough uranium and another six months to assemble the warhead. The Iranian Defence Ministry has been running a covert nuclear research department for years, employing hundreds of scientists, researchers and metallurgists in a multibillion-dollar programme to develop nuclear technology alongside the civilian nuclear programme.

Of course we’ve been down this road before. As noted above, the United States’ National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 stated that Iran had halted it’s nuclear weapons program in 2003. In February of this year, though, both the United Nations and the United States issued reports saying that the program was further along than previously believed. Less than a month later, though, the Director of National Intelligence seemed to debunk those February reports.

So we’re left with a question that I’ve asked more than once regarding this subject —- who, exactly, are we supposed to believe ?

It’s a relevant question.

Throughout the 1990s, American and other international intelligence agencies issued report after report claiming that Iraq had revived it’s WMD program. We now know that to be untrue and that the information we were relying on was nothing more than a gigantic bluff on the part of Saddam Hussein to fool Iran into thinking he was stronger militarily than he actually was. We relied on that information, though, and ended up entering a war that will likely define American, and Middle Eastern, politics for some time to come, and not necessarily in a good way. Given that, some degree of skepticism about these Iran reports is warranted, I think.

Let’s assume they’re true, though, what, if anything, can the United States do about it:

The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama’s offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products.

The option of acting against companies around the world that supply Iran with 40 percent of its gasoline has been broached with European allies and Israel, officials from those countries said. Legislation that would give Mr. Obama that authority already has 71 sponsors in the Senate and similar legislation is expected to sail through the House.

In a visit to Israel last week, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, James L. Jones, mentioned the prospect to Israeli officials, they said.

The White House refused Sunday to confirm or deny the contents of Mr. Jones’s discussions. But other administration officials said that they believed his goal was to reinforce Mr. Obama’s argument that the Israeli government should stop dropping hints about conducting a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities if no progress is made this year, and to give the administration time to impose what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calls “crippling sanctions” that might force Iran to negotiate.

The Bush administration considered, and rejected, trying to engineer a cutoff of gasoline to Iran, which produces oil but does not have enough refining capacity to meet its own needs for gasoline.

But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.

As Bruce McQuain notes, though, a plan like this would only work if China signs on to it, and it seems very unlikely that China would sign on to a plan that would ruin a trade relationship that is very beneficial to Beijing. In that case there are only two options — either Iran gets its nuke and the rest of the Middle East responds by building up it’s own defenses (or possibly developing it’s own nuclear program) or, we have war.

Or possibly both.

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