New York Times: Amid signs that Iran’s military is resisting efforts to open its nuclear program to deeper inspection, the Obama administration on Friday imposed sanctions on several Iranian organizations, including one run by the reclusive scientist who is widely believed to direct research on building nuclear weapons.
The New York Times
By David E. Sangeraug
Amid signs that Iran’s military is resisting efforts to open its nuclear program to deeper inspection, the Obama administration on Friday imposed sanctions on several Iranian organizations, including one run by the reclusive scientist who is widely believed to direct research on building nuclear weapons.
In a statement, the White House said the sanctions were a continuation of its strategy to crack down on groups suspected of seeking to avoid or violate existing sanctions, even as “the United States remains committed” to striking an accord by late November that includes “a long-term, comprehensive solution that provides confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”
But in the month and a half since the talks were extended, Iran has missed a major deadline to provide information about its nuclear research, declared it will not allow visits to a military site suspected of being part of nuclear component testing, and said it is completing work on far more powerful centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.
The sanctions announced Friday were in the works long before those declarations from Tehran, which appeared to be part of the continuing struggle inside the Iranian government over whether a nuclear deal is in the country’s interests.
The most notable of the new penalties is against the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, created three and a half years ago by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who is considered the father of Iran’s off-again-on-again nuclear weapons research efforts in the 1990s and through the last decade. He left Malek-Ashtar University of Technology in 2011 to create the new organization, one of several reconfigurations of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure that American and European intelligence agencies believe are part of an effort to hide the size and scope of Iran’s activities.
Mr. Fakhrizadeh’s expertise is central to any Western effort at stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon, or in putting together the components that could be used to assemble a warhead that could fit atop one of Iran’s long-range missiles. As the keeper of Iran’s greatest nuclear secrets, he has long loomed over the talks, but has never attended them. Iranian officials suggested in June that his absence was wise, since he is at the top of Israel’s hit list for Iranian scientists, several of whom have been assassinated in recent years.
Mr. Fakhrizadeh, a former professor, has long been on United Nations’ lists of officials subject to sanctions. But he is believed to travel widely, if secretly. It is not clear why the State Department waited so long to add his new organization to the sanctions list.
But the announcement comes just days after Iran said it would not allow inspectors in Parchin, a site they last visited years ago, and which has been extensively cleansed in recent years, according to satellite photographs that show earth-moving efforts around suspected test sites. A Monday deadline for turning over data to the International Atomic Energy Agency passed, apparently without the transfer of the information, though Iran has said it is working on answering many of the inspectors’ questions. That process is expected to take months or years, long after the deadline for negotiations expires, according to senior officials of the agency.
Iran has also declared that it is speeding ahead with the manufacture of a new generation of centrifuges that could enrich uranium up to 24 times faster than those now installed at the country’s two main enrichment sites.
“Manufacturing and production of new centrifuges is our right,” the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian news organizations this week. But the Iranian reports indicated that only mechanical testing of the new centrifuges had been conducted; it is not clear whether that would constitute a violation of the agreement Iran signed last year to freeze nuclear activity. There is no evidence that the new centrifuges have been fed with nuclear fuel.
The announcement may be devised to appease those in Iran who believe the country must press ahead with its research and development, even while negotiating some kind of deal. But Mr. Salehi, in separate comments, has also indicated that Iran is redesigning its nuclear reactor near the town of Arak so that it will produce less plutonium, a change that could slow the inauguration of the new reactor by up to three years, he said.
Nonetheless, the State Department sanctions are also aimed at the Arak reactor. It designated for sanctions Iran’s Nuclear Science and Technology Research Institute, which it said was helping build the reactor that, “as presently designed, would provide Iran the capability to produce plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel that could be used in nuclear weapons.”
For the first time, the administration said in public that Iran was at work on a process that seemed aimed at allowing the country to reprocess plutonium, much as North Korea has, to fabricate weapons fuel. But there is no evidence that any of that reprocessing has taken place, and Iran so far is not known to have produced any plutonium — or bought any from North Korea, a pathway American intelligence officials say they are watching for any signs of nuclear-related transactions.
The designations may have little effect on these organizations, which hide their procurement activities well. Moreover, there is debate about whether the Western-led sanctions are having much effect in Iran. During a visit this summer, Payam Mohseni, who runs the Iran Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, concluded that the sanctions had little effect on Iran’s elite, and made many of them richer as they traded in scarce goods.
“I perceived the Iranians to be very confident about their rising power and regional standing, and there was no sense of urgency or need to compromise and resolve the nuclear standoff,” he wrote in a recent post. “They believed to have gained much from the regional turmoil, including in Syria and recently in Iraq with the rise of ISIS. This perception was particularly striking during my discussions with leading conservative figures of the state.”