Sunday Telegraph: The United States arms control chief has given warning that Iran is “very close to the point of no return” in acquiring the technological expertise to make a nuclear weapon. The Sunday Telegraph
By Philip Sherwell in Washington
The United States arms control chief has given warning that Iran is “very close to the point of no return” in acquiring the technological expertise to make a nuclear weapon.
“In terms of activities on the ground in Iran, it is fair to say that the Iranians have put both feet on the accelerator,” said Robert Joseph, the senior US State Department official responsible for countering nuclear proliferation.
His comments, which come as the United Nations Security Council prepares to meet to discuss the crisis this week, indicate that Washington believes that the stakes are rising rapidly in the West’s confrontation with the Islamic republic.
Earlier this month, Teheran claimed to have enriched uranium for the nuclear fuel cycle. It has pushed ahead with its programme while taking advantage of a diplomatic stand-off between Moscow and Washington over possible UN sanctions.
Iran is following tactics outlined by its former chief nuclear negotiator in comments to clerics and academics previously unreported in the West. Hassan Rowhani made clear that Iran’s goal was to present the world with a fait accompli over its nuclear ambitions.
“If, one day, we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we do possess the technology, then the situation will be different,” he told the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. “The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle, but Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle.”
He delivered the speech in September, a month after Iran sparked the latest stage of its showdown with the international community by resuming uranium conversion, in breach of previous accords, following the election of its hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr Rowhani reiterated to his audience Iran’s public insistence that it is seeking nuclear technology only for peaceful civilian purposes. But his comparison to Pakistan’s secret development of an atomic weapon is significant, as Iran acquired much of its nuclear know-how from A Q Khan, the rogue scientist known as the father of the Pakistani bomb.
During the speech, Mr Rowhani emphasised that Iran had intended to complete its programme in secret. “This was never supposed to be in the open. But in any case the spies exposed it,” he said, in reference to the revelation by opposition exiles of Iran’s clandestine nuclear operations.
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Teheran was aiming to shape the debate with its claims.
“Iran is betting that it can redraw the West’s red lines by creating facts on the ground. At the time they re-commenced uranium conversion activities in Isfahan, last August, much fuss was made in the US and EU, but it eventually became an irreversible fait accompli. They may well believe that the West will eventually come to accept their enrichment activities as well.”
The Security Council meets on Friday to hear a report on Iran’s nuclear activities from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But although the agency’s director, Mohamed ElBaradei, is certain to report that Iran has ignored the ultimatum to halt enrichment work, US, British and French hopes of moving towards imposing sanctions are slim.
Russia hardened its stand against such punitive measures last week. Its foreign ministry said Moscow would consider sanctions only if “concrete facts” emerged that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. China, which also holds a Security Council veto, leans towards the Russian position.
Iran made an apparent attempt yesterday to confuse the situation ahead of the UN meeting when it said it had reached a “basic” agreement with Moscow to enrich uranium in Russia. The announcement made no mention of whether Teheran would cease enrichment in Iran – a key UN demand.
Last week, Moscow rejected an appeal by Washington to halt the sale of air defence missile systems to Teheran in a $700 million (£392 million) deal. “This is not the time for business as usual with the Iranian government,” said Nicholas Burns, a senior US State Department official.