The U.S. and its allies had sought to prevent Iran from achieving a “breakout” capacity — i.e., assembling sufficient civilian nuclear infrastructure to allow it to move relatively quickly to build a bomb should it choose to break out of the NPT, in the manner that a country like Japan is capable of doing. That goal required Iran to give up exercising its right to enrich uranium. There’s no sign of Iran moving in that direction, but if it shows new flexibility in negotiating further safeguards against weaponization of its nuclear output, that will create a new dilemma for the Obama Administration: whether or not the U.S. and its allies, particularly Israel, can live with an outcome that leaves Iran with “threshold” capacity, even under greater safeguards.
While under attack in a Senate subcommittee from Republicans who are skeptical over the Geneva talks, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg suggested on Tuesday, according to CNN, that “one reason for the Obama Administration’s engagement toward Iran was to secure international support for sanctions if Iran continued to defy international demands.” The argument works if Iran stonewalls; but if it offers counterproposals deemed reasonable by China, Russia and some Europeans, winning support for further sanctions would become even harder. And that’s a game the Iranians may be ready to play, by refusing to give up uranium enrichment but at the same time showing new openness to measures aimed at strengthening international confidence in the peaceful intent of its nuclear program. Tehran is far more likely to tailor its positions to what will be acceptable to Russia, China and some of the Europeans than it is to heed the demands put forward by the U.S. and its key allies. [continued…]
In an interesting reversal of roles from the Bush era, the Europeans were pushing for the plant to be outed at once, while the U.S. was more cautious. “The Americans seem to have become more patient as their dossier on Iran has gotten fuller, while the Europeans are getting more anxious about taking care of this matter as they’ve learned more,” says Jacquard.
From then on, the challenge was to keep the information secret. Panetta said he ordered the presentation to be readied “in the event that that information leaked out or that [the Obama Administration] wanted to present it to the International Atomic Energy Agency.” British, French and Israeli intelligence agencies were involved in creating the presentation, he added.
U.S. officials believe that it was only when Iran found out that its cover had been blown that it chose to own up to the plant’s existence — although how it might have learned of Washington’s discovery remains unclear. On the eve of the U.N. General Assembly last month, the Iranians sent the IAEA a terse note, acknowledging the presence of the Qum facility. The next day, Panetta dispatched a team to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna to make the presentation. [continued…]
The notification says simply, “The Department has an Urgent Operational Need (UON) for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high threat environments. The MOP is the weapon of choice to meet the requirements of the UON.” It further states that the request is endorsed by Pacific Command (which has responsibility over North Korea) and Central Command (which has responsibility over Iran).
The request was quietly approved. On Friday, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a $51.9 million contract to provide “Massive Penetrator Ordnance Integration” on B-2 aircraft.
This is not the kind of weapon that would be particularly useful in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it is ideally suited to hit deeply buried nuclear facilities such as Natanz or Qom in Iran. [continued…]
Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday accused the United States of being involved in the disappearance of an Iranian scientist with alleged links to Iran’s nuclear program.
The charge comes less than a week after Iran reached tentative accords with the United States and other major powers on addressing questions about its nuclear ambitions, including letting international inspectors visit its newly disclosed uranium-enrichment site near Qom. The charge also comes as the United States has raised questions about Americans being held in Iran.
The scientist, Shahram Amiri, vanished during a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia four months ago; Iran previously called on Saudi Arabia to help locate him. He is a researcher at Malek Ashtar University, which is connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and was listed by the European Union last year as an entity linked to Iran’s nuclear activities or weapon delivery systems. [continued…]
Iran plans to nearly halve the amount of gasoline that motorists can buy at a heavily subsidised price, state television reported on Thursday, in what could be a politically controversial proposal.
It quoted Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as saying that under the plan, to be considered by parliament next week, the quota of subsidised gasoline would be reduced to 55 litres per month from 100 litres now.
The proposal comes as the United States and its European allies explore ways of targeting fuel imports into Iran if it continues to press on with its nuclear programme. [continued…]