Yousaf Butt writes: Olli Heinonen is alarmed that Iran has begun producing 20 percent enriched uranium at a new, deeply buried site, and calculates that Iranian scientists could further purify the material to the 90 percent enrichment needed for a bomb in about six months’ time. This prediction, however, is based on unsubstantiated assumptions regarding Iranian intentions, and only serves to provide ammunition for hawks in Washington that would rush the United States into another destructive war in the Middle East.
If Tehran enriched uranium to 90 percent, it would be forced to break its four decade-long adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — a momentous step that would likely prompt swift military action from the United States or Israel. Furthermore, Heinonen fails to mention that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “All nuclear material in the facility remains under the Agency’s containment and surveillance.” The IAEA considers 20 percent enriched uranium to be low-enriched uranium and “a fully adequate isotopic barrier” to weaponization.
This isn’t the first time that hawks have raised the alarm about Iran’s nuclear program, claiming that the sky is falling. Breathless, hypothetical timelines to an Iranian bomb have continued almost unabated since the time of the shah. For instance, in 1992, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that Iran would have nuclear warheads by 1999. By casting the worst-case scenario as a realistic possibility, such timelines invite overly tough policies that may, in turn, actually provoke a hard-line Iranian response — creating a self-fulfilling cycle of escalation.
In reality, however, Iran is not doing anything that violates its legal right to develop nuclear technology. Under the NPT, it is not illegal for a member state to have a nuclear weapons capability — or a “nuclear option.” If a nation has a fully developed civilian nuclear sector — which the NPT actually encourages — it, by default, already has a fairly solid nuclear weapons capability. For example, like Iran, Argentina, Brazil, and Japan also maintain a “nuclear option” — they, too, could break out of the NPT and make a nuclear device in a few months, if not less. And like Iran, Argentina and Brazil also do not permit full “Additional Protocol” IAEA inspections.