Reuters: There is a growing international consensus that Iran will almost inevitably develop a nuclear weapon, a leading think tank said on Wednesday. By Andrew Gray
LONDON (Reuters) – There is a growing international consensus that Iran will almost inevitably develop a nuclear weapon, a leading think tank said on Wednesday.
The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) issued its assessment as world powers met in London to consider a package of incentives and threats drafted by EU leaders meant to defuse a stand-off with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Iran says it is developing nuclear technology only for power generation. The United States and other Western nations believe Iran wants the capability to develop an atomic bomb.
“There is a consensus emerging that an Iranian nuclear capacity is both almost inevitable, and certainly bad,” IISS Director-General John Chipman said at the launch of the think tank’s annual survey of global might, “The Military Balance”.
The United States says it wants to resolve the Iran crisis through diplomacy but has not ruled out military action if negotiations fail.
Chipman said the IISS remained of the view that 2010 was the earliest Iran could produce enough uranium for a nuclear bomb.
“Other estimates of 2009 and even 2008 are within the margin of error, given the number of unknowns,” he said.
“U.S. intelligence estimates remain cautious, though it is interesting to note that some European assessments tend to the shorter end of the above time frames,” he said.
Chipman also said the limited access that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors now have to Iranian nuclear work “inevitably requires policymakers to rely on worst-case assumptions about Iran’s progress towards the bomb”.
The IAEA in April verified Iran’s claim to have enriched uranium to the 3.5 percent level needed to fuel power plants.
But the IISS said Iran’s declaration in May that it attained 4.8 percent enrichment, close to the maximum compatible with civilian use, was “surely exaggerated”.
“Iran skimped on the diagnostic and sustainability tests necessary to ensure that the components are properly calibrated and fitted and that the centrifuge machines will not crash during commercial-scale operations,” Chipman said.
To set off bombs, uranium must be enriched to 80 to 90 percent.
Chipman said the nuclear standoff would be the world’s most difficult strategic challenge in the coming months and years.
“The rough U.S. consensus, summed up by Senator John McCain, is that the only thing worse than a U.S. military strike is a nuclear-armed Iran,” Chipman said.
“The rough Gulf Arab consensus might be that the only thing worse than a nuclear-armed Iran is a U.S. military strike against the country, especially if it were still left with a nuclear option,” he added.
Nuclear proliferation analysts say military action could only delay, not destroy, any Iranian quest for atom bombs as Tehran had acquired the know-how to enrich uranium.
(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna)