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Iran: Nuclear Weapons or Peaceful Energy?

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Iran: Nuclear Weapons or Peaceful Energy?

By Robert Weiner and James Lewis

With the ratification of START, a new nuclear alliance is shaping - one dedicated to the effort to prevent rogue nations from developing nuclear weapons.

Is Iran developing nuclear weapons or peaceful energy? The American intelligence and policy community from CIA Director Leon Panetta to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Defense Secretary Robert Gates - and past and present presidents Bush and Obama - all maintain Iran is developing an offensive nuclear weapons program.   However, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the program is purely for nuclear energy development, and that's what he repeatedly tells the world and his own nation.  

Recently, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and Vice-President, Ali Akbar Salehi announced that Iran achieved the necessary technology to produce yellowcake, a pre-enrichment form of uranium obtained from leaching solutions used on uranium ores, a required step in a homegrown weapons program.

November's Wikileaks document dump pointed out that Arab nations, Iran's supposed allies, are secretly calling for attacks against Iranian facilities to preempt nukes.

So if Ahmadinejad wants to avoid a US attack supported by his Arab colleagues, secretly or not, he has an even stronger reason to allow credible IAEA inspections. To the cables' outing, Secretary of State Clinton responded, "I think that it should not be a surprise that Iran is a source of great concern, not only in the U.S." The comments reported in the cables prove that Iran poses a serious threat in the eyes of its neighbors." After the intelligence misfire on Iraq WMD's, how can we independently know if Iran is a threat or not?

In other words, the key question is, How do we know if Iran is developing weapons or energy?

There is an established and credible way to differentiate peaceful power from weaponry. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Supplier Group of countries who export nuclear technology, reactor fuel is enriched, a process that increases the amount of reactive material up to 6% -- while weapons-grade is enriched 90%. The Iranians had difficulty enriching the materials at all until the Russians transferred to Iran heavy centrifuge technologies to enrich uranium possibly starting in 2008.   We tried to stop the transfer but failed.   These transfers are embargoed by UN sanctions; however, the centrifuges are now in Iran.  

One indicator may be that Iran has failed to submit to IAEA inspections.   There have been facilities uninspected for 18 years. Ahmadinejad continues to follow the path of Gaddafi pre-2003, when Libya left the dark side, no longer blocking inspections, and giving up its nuclear materials.

As Libya did, Iran is now developing advanced missile technologies with the assistance of North Korea, according to public CIA and Air Force intelligence reports. The Iranian Shahab-3 missile has been fitted with elements of North Korea's Taep'o-Dong launch vehicle since July 2001. These advances and further cooperation have increased the range and accuracy of Iran's Shahab missile program capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

To the government of Iran, Libya "sold-out" and "kowtowed" in abandoning its nuclear program and became a Western puppet.   However, Libya's GDP has quintupled since sanctions were eased.   Libya has become a regional economic leader. It was removed from the State Department's Terrorist Sponsor List.   Removal from the terror list means Libya's ports now are open to receiving American conventional weapons, as well as dual-use technology for water desalination and oil production to benefit the Libyan people.

Given that Iran borders a nuclear Pakistan, Iranian nuclear ambition seems likely.   The conventional wisdom is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons to attack the US, Israel, or transfer the devices to extremist organizations.   What is clear is that Iran is moving to balance its regional competitors and prevent US invasion.   Any Iranian nuclear weapons development could trigger a nuclear arms race among jealous neighbors including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

During a May, 2010 speech, Ahmadinejad asked why Iran should be perceived as the bad guy: He asked why should the West and other countries should have "more than 20,000 nuclear warheads worldwide" and then blame Iran, which has "none." He spoke of America's waging war in Iraq despite no WMD's there, and our allowing torture--and asked "who" really is "the threat." He continued, "Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran."   Domestically, from his side, if we want to understand his position and argue successfully against it, we have to recognize the basis of his political point.

But Ahmadinejad also has some work on his side if he wants to prove he is not developing weapons.   Iran must open all its nuclear facilities to IAEA. Otherwise, the same threats we made and implemented against Iraq for not allowing weapons testing - even though our assumptions turned out to be false concerning Iraq WMD's -- could become the basis of growing public opinion which will be used against Iran and Ahmadinejad. We assume, however, he likes his job and does not want to spend six months in a hole before his execution is posted on YouTube, right or wrong.   Simply by allowing inspections, he now has a chance to avoid the possibility of such an outcome.

From December 13, 2010, interview by Russia Today (RT) TV with Robert Weiner, former white House spokesman:

During an interview with Russia Today, Robert Weiner highlighted the importance of START in preventing Iranian nuclear weapons. "When you have 20,000 nuclear weapons aimed all over the world, anybody can get at them, but that's just too darn many to be honest.   How can we persuade Iran to go to zero when we have 20,000 and won't reduce them? That would be a ridiculous statement of immoral proportions, so we have got to take the proper steps."

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