Iran’s Nuclear Cycle- Iran’s Nuclear Facilities (Ядерный цикл Ирана – ядерные объекты Ирана)
In recent months, one of the key problems of international policy has been related to Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. suspects Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons and is prepared to strike at its nuclear fuel cycle facilities. Iran accuses the U.S. of conducting a policy of “double standards,” and says that the nature of its nuclear program is peaceful, but is seeking to create a full nuclear fuel cycle. The leading European countries, Britain, France, and Germany, are offering Iran a complete halt to uranium enrichment in exchange for peaceful nuclear technology and the expansions of economic relations with the E.U. If there is a way out of this problem, which has taken on an international character, and has a direct impact on international security in countries in the Middle East and other regions of the world? Some Russian experts believe that is possible, but requires a joint effort by Iran, the U.S., Russia, the E.U., and Israel.
The Middle East is a highly volatile region. On one hand, there are huge energy resources, without which the very existence of the U.S. and European economies is impossible. On the other hand, bases of international terrorism are also located here and are occasionally exacerbated by the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a number of states such as Syria and Iran have been ranked by the American president as the “axis of evil.” Considerable stockpiles and military equipment have also accumulated here. Some states, such as Syria, have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and Israel stands as an unofficial member of the “nuclear club.”
In the last decade the Middle East has developed into a rather complicated situation in the area of international security. A number of states in the region began a nuclear program as the only means of salvation from the current external threats. In this instance, their leadership was aware that this goal can only be achieved by the extreme exertion of all domestic resources, and have taken into account the possibility of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council. Another factor that has contributed to the tense situation is the policy of official nuclear states, which not only sought to destroy their own nuclear weapons and vice versa, have now carried out a modernization program. In addition, the U.S. military action against Iraq, which led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein, has raised concern in several Middle Eastern countries, and the desire of some states in the region to achieve higher international status cannot be ignored. As a result, the political elites of these states have approved the prospect of countries having nuclear weapons as a reliable means of protection against any attack from the outside. The greatest successes in the region have been Israel and Iran.
Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab states. Of all the Arab states, only Egypt and Jordan have established diplomatic relations with Israel. The feeling of constant external threats and personal vulnerability has forced the country’s leadership to develop nuclear weapons. Despite the lack of formal evidence, the overwhelming majority of Russian experts do not doubt that Israel has nuclear weapons in the form of a full triad. Given the depth of contradictions between Israel and the Arabs countries, the destruction of their own nuclear weapons, even with solid security guarantees from the U.S. or NATO in the near future, is unlikely.
Since the 1970’s, Iran has been very ambitious about developing a nuclear program. Specifically, by 2020 it plans to build a significant number of nuclear power stations with low-enriched uranium, pressurized water reactors for electrical power, which is supposed to exceed 20,000 megawatts. The program was later adjusted to reflect the economic opportunities of the country in the direction of reducing the amount nuclear energy generated by 70%. The decision on the implementation of a military nuclear program was apparently made in the early 1990’s. Simultaneously, work began on the development of nuclear weapons from highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In 1995, highly enriched uranium was purchased with the help of A.Q. Khan in Pakistan and was collected in 500 P-1 centrifuges. High-level Iranian technicians will copy (reverse engineer) the centrifuges and allow Iran to begin its own production. As early as 1996, the CIA found evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.
In recent years, work on the Iranian military nuclear program has accelerated. In February 2003, Iran acknowledged the installation of 100 centrifuges for uranium enrichment at the Natanz experimental production facility, and planned by year’s end to increase the number to 900. There are underground facilities with a total area of 60,000 square meters, enough to accommodate up to 50,000 centrifuges. In May 2003, France which provided the Nuclear Suppliers Group materials, accused Iran of a nuclear weapons program. In August 2003, IAEA inspectors had information on traces of highly enriched uranium found at the Natanz plant. At present, Iran is building a plant to produce heavy water at Arak, and plans to build a heavy water research reactor in Karaj that can be used for plutonium production. Nevertheless, the greatest danger to the world community now is an Iranian weapons program. A nuclear bomb based on highly enriched uranium is presumably well under way.
Israel’s view of an Iranian military nuclear program is extremely negative, especially given the range of the Iranian Shahab-3 missile from its territory (a missile range up to 2,500 km). The Israeli leadership has repeatedly spoken about the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle facilities if it does not halt production of highly enriched uranium. Israel already has experience with such operations. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force attacked and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. According to Russian experts, an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is much more complicated because they are scattered across the country, and the distance from Israel to these sites is much greater than it was in Iraq. In the event of such an attack, Iran would respond by launching its own missiles on Israeli territory, the effectiveness of which would depend on the ability of the Israeli missile defense system to intercept [incoming] missiles.
The relationship between the U.S. and Iran is rather complicated. Iran is counted among the “axis of evil” and is experiencing constant economic and military pressure from the United States, which suspects Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons and aiding terrorists. In early 2005, fifty U.S. congressmen demanded that President Bush “to hold the current Iranian regime accountable for its threatening behavior,” and to support all pro-democracy forces in Iran. They proposed to begin federal funding to allocate grants to support independent radio and TV stations broadcasting in Iranian territory from abroad. The U.S. congressmen have demanded not only keeping already existing U.S. sanctions against Iran, but also to expand sanctions against foreign companies working with Iran. As a result, economic sanctions were introduced against eight Chinese companies, which in their opinion, render assistance to Iran by improving ballistic missiles. Previously, similar sanctions have been imposed against Russian and other foreign enterprises.
On January 18, 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that Iran halt its nuclear weapons development program. Otherwise, he did not rule out the possibility of military action. The announcement was made after a U.S. Defense Department official refuted the fact that a secret organization of special units in Iran’s intelligence operations collected information on 30 sites used in nuclear and missile programs. However, according information in the American magazine, The New Yorker, these special units collected information for six months, not only on nuclear and chemical facilities, but also on ballistic missile launchers. The identified sites can be destroyed by high-precision weapons and by subversive groups.
The Iranian leadership is in a difficult situation. On the hand, Iran is legally producing atomic power. It is a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) member, and has signed the Additional Protocol of 1997, allowing it to enter IAEA safeguards. On the other hand, Iran has practically completed a full closed nuclear fuel cycle, part of which can be used for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials. The Iranian leadership believes it has the right to acquire and develop technologies for enrichment of nuclear materials, if appropriate production is under IAEA supervision; indeed the NPT allows it. North Korea, for example, was a member of the NPT, which secretly established the scientific and technical background to develop nuclear weapons; then it announced it was exiting the treaty, to great concern of the world community.
Another reason to create a full closed nuclear fuel cycle, according to the Iranian leadership, is the need to secure its own fuel supply. Investing huge funds in the nuclear industry, the government does not want to depend on the fuel suppliers. Given Iran’s complex relations with several countries, one cannot exclude the use of this factor to exert pressure on the country’s leadership. At present, the international community is not prepared to provide Iran with credible guarantees of an uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel at reasonable prices. However, many experts have even questioned the very need for nuclear power, due to Iran’s significant reserves of oil and natural gas.
The Iranian leadership also believes that the recent anti-Iranian attacks by George W. Bush and senior members of the administration are psychological in nature. Thus, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the following: “The statements of U.S. President George W. Bush and other American officials about possible military action against Iran are playing a kind of psychological game to influence our decision. However, we already have experience in this area. We do not want to engage in a confrontation with anyone, but we will be ready with our full power to defend our national interests.” The Iranian leader, Mohammad Khatami agrees with him, saying, “I do not think that the Americans are able to accept such a stupid decision to start a war with Iran… We consider the probability of such an attack as very low, and this applies to other countries.” Apparently this is what defines Iran’s reserved attitude toward the collection of American intelligence on Iran.
At the same time, Iran’s leadership is aware of the real possibility of the use of force against their country. That is why is has taken concrete steps to alleviate the nuclear issue. In particular, the cascade of new centrifuges at Natanz and its uranium enrichment program has been temporarily halted, and the facility was placed under the IAEA control. The uranium conversion plant in Isfahan was put under IAEA control in September 2004. Despite the absence of the ratification of the 1997 NPT Additional Protocol, the country voted for the enforcement of its provisions and allowed IAEA inspectors its facilities.
Particularly noteworthy are the relations between Russia and Iran in the area of atomic energy. Despite numerous statements by U.S. officials on the transfer of Russian nuclear and missile technology to Iran, the cooperation between our two countries in this sphere is evolving and will continue. In particular, Russia will continue construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The cost of the construction contract is in excess of one billion dollars.
Given the tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the short term, the prospect of a precision-guided weapons strike against Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle facilities and the production of missiles and ballistic missile launchers is a possibility. A similar impact can be applied by Israel. Moreover, such an attack could be carried out unilaterally, without U.N. Security Council sanctions, as Russia and China, being permanent members of the Security Council, would have a high probability of vetoing such a resolution. The consequences of the unresolved situation in Iraq and Afghanistan will be very negative for the Middle East region and for Russia.
Under the guise of combating the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the U.S. invaded Iraq. They scored a brilliant military victory, but failed to stabilize the situation in the country. The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime allowed nationalist and radical forces, with financial support from a number of Middle Eastern countries and independent funding, to deploy the country’s partisan struggle. As a result of monthly U.S. military losses of more than fifty people, some European countries such as Spain, have decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The increase of various terrorist organizations and constant kidnappings for ransom have completely disrupted the life support system of major Iraqi cities. But, local parliament elections have shown that people’s freedom of expression has not stopped during the fighting.
The situation is somewhat better in Afghanistan, where the operation to overthrow the Taliban regime was mandated by the U.N. Security Council. However, terrorist activities have intensified after the war in Iraq. The lack of resources has meant that NATO forces control only the capital and several major cities. The central government is extremely weak and the provinces are controlled by independent warlords. Drug production has dramatically increased, which is rushed through Tajikistan to Russia and on to Europe. Soon the Russian frontier guards will withdraw from Tajikistan and the situation will worsen.
What is the solution to this situation? According to some Russian experts, the creation of Iranian nuclear weapons would not meet its national interests in the long term. Iran is already a regional power that has huge human resources and modern technology. The country’s economy is booming amid growing ties of friendship with Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, China, Ukraine, and several European countries. Iran is also creating an aviation and automobile industry, and in the near future a Russian orbiter will carry an Iranian satellite into space. However, Iranian society remains extremely closed to the West, which impedes the flow of foreign investment and the transfer of advanced technologies. The creation of nuclear weapons will only further isolate the country from the rest of the world and will inevitably affect the development of the economy and the welfare of Iranians.
In 2003, the Libyan leadership renounced weapons of mass destruction and undertook to destroy them. In exchange for eliminating their nuclear weapons program and chemical weapons stockpiles, the country’s leadership received favorable aid from the West that could compensate for previously incurred costs to develop WMD’s which experts estimate would top one billion dollars. In Iran, this approach is possible only in part. Improving relations with the leading European countries is a prerequisite for rapid economic development. In the interest of European countries, such is the need to guarantee delivery of Iranian energy resources. Apparently the Iranian leadership should seriously consider the proposal by the E.U. on a complete cessation of uranium enrichment activities in return for peaceful nuclear technology and the expansion of economic relations with the E.U.
The majority of Russian experts believe that even under the most favorable conditions for Iran to create its own nuclear weapons, will require one to three years. A precision-guided weapons strike would inevitably the program back at least five years. In addition, the political decision by Iran to develop nuclear weapons most likely is not accepted. Therefore, the situation can still change by firmly rejecting plans for a closed fuel cycle, which eliminates the possibility of Iran developing its own nuclear weapons.
Leading European countries are the “locomotive” of the negotiations on nuclear issues, but negotiations with Iran cannot be successful without the active participation of Russia and the United States. Currently Russia is building the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the basis of light nuclear reactors. In the future Russia may build nuclear power plants or similar type and take on commitments to supply nuclear fuel at fixed prices, and even export spent fuel to its territory. All of this will eliminate the use of Iran’s Russian reactors for plutonium production.
The U.S. plays a significant role in the solving the Iranian nuclear issue. Without the settlement of U.S.-Iranian relations and the provision of a non-aggression commitment to Iran by the U.S., progress on this issue is hardly possible. If Iran cannot accept the proposals of the E.U. and eliminate a number of key components of the nuclear fuel cycle, the use of force by the United States is still possible. In this instance, the Iranian leadership presumably would be forced to take a course to create its own nuclear weapons preserve its sovereignty.
Consequently, the present U.S. position on Iran is clearly hopeless, because a military solution to Iranian nuclear sites does not exist. According to Alexei Arbatov, the head of the Institute of World Economics and International Relations Center for International Security, the White House has threatened Iran to divert public attentions from the situation in Iraq, and to cover the political, moral, and military defeat in this region. Alexei Arbatov stated: “threatening Iran is another major American mistake, which if implemented, would have unpleasant consequences for the region, the U.S., and the entire world.”
However, Iran’s support of several terrorist organizations is proving very difficult for the process of improving U.S.-Iranian and Iranian-Israeli relations. The Iranian leadership should reconsider its relations with such organizations as the Lebanese group Hezbollah, the Palestinian group Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others. Comprehensive support of these organizations not only strengthens terrorism in the Middle East, but also fosters a negative image in the eyes of the world community. It also gives ground for the U.S. and Israeli beliefs that Iran is one of the main terrorist bases.
Israel could provide substantial assistance in initiating the Iranian nuclear site. Only an extremely cautious stance on this issue, such as the rejection of unilateral action and seeking mutual compromises, could save quite a delicate balance in the region.
On 10 February 2005, the North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs officially announced the North’s own weapons. A number of Russian experts believe this information to be a bluff due to increasing pressure by the United States on Iran’s current nuclear issue. In addition, North Korea seeks to remind the international community about itself to receive financial assistance.
This situation creates favorable conditions for the outbreak of Iranian nuclear sites because, unlike North Korea, Iran’s leadership takes a more realistic approach and is in contact with the IAEA. Apparently the United States relented on the position towards Iran because it is impossible to simultaneously decide between the Iranian and North Korean nuclear problems. The U.S. will be forced to switch to North Korea, where the support of the international community is provided for them.
Thus, Iran’s desire to create its own nuclear weapons is a dead end path, which does not account for the long term national interests of the country, and will worsen the state of security in the Middle East. The position of the U.S. regarding this issue is clearly hopeless and does not allow finding compromises. But there is a way out of this situation:
-adoption of E.U. proposals to Iran’s full cessation of uranium enrichment and accumulation of plutonium in exchange for peaceful nuclear technology and expansion of economic relations with European countries;
-ratification of the 1997 NPT Additional Protocol and cessation of the accumulation of plutonium;
-that Iran suspend all support for terrorist organizations and begin the normalization of relations with Israel;
-settlement of U.S.-Iranian relations and the provision of U.S. non-aggression guarantees to Iran;
-an ensured Russian supply of reactor fuel at fixed, low prices, as well as export into Russian territory of spent nuclear fuel.
All of this will lead to a radical improvement of the situation in the Middle East and the economic prosperity of Iran in the future.
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