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Iran’s nuclear progress

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Wall Street Journal: Even the U.N. now says Iran has enough fuel for two weapons.

The Wall Street Journal

Even the U.N. now says Iran has enough fuel for two weapons.

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Any day now, the U.N. Security Council will take up sanctions on Iran, which the Obama Administration considers a culmination of its year-plus-long diplomatic game plan. Alas in the real world beyond Turtle Bay, Iran moves ever closer to building an atomic bomb, and neither the U.S. nor its allies appear to possess any ideas, much less a serious strategy, to stop it.

Iran’s nuclear progress comes through clearly in the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Released Monday ahead of the sanctions vote, the U.N. agency reports that Iran now has produced enough nuclear fuel to make two atomic weapons. As the U.S. was trying to extend a hand to Tehran and engage in talks in the past year, the Iranians nearly doubled their stock of 5%-enriched uranium to 5,300 pounds. The IAEA also says Iran has started to enrich small but growing amounts of uranium up to 20%, installing new centrifuges for that purpose.

These steps take Iran closer to the nuclear brink. Enriching fuel from 20% to the 90% or so needed for a Hiroshima-style atomic bomb would take only a few weeks. Based on these numbers, some analysts estimate Iran could get the bomb in as little as 18 months. So much for that infamous December 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate that Iran had ceased work on an atomic weapon.

The IAEA reports that an important piece of lab equipment which could be used to extract plutonium for a bomb went missing from a research facility. The Iranians were conducting so-called pyro-processing experiments to remove impurities from uranium metal, thus opening another route for the mullahs to build a nuclear device. The IAEA complains as well that Iran blocked access to scientists and files and didn’t provide information about plans to build 10 new enrichment plants. As if Iran has ever made a good-faith effort to come clean about its intentions.

According to a certain sort of conventional wisdom, the IAEA report will “bolster” the Obama Administration’s case for sanctions at the U.N. To us, this is merely the latest indictment of years of diplomatic half-measures by the U.S. and Europe that has provided Iran with the cover to press ahead with its illicit program without fear of grave repercussions.

The coming sanctions are the fourth set put before the Security Council. During the Bush Administration, the previous three passed without any opposition but also with little impact. The Iranians refused to suspend enrichment, which was—before George W. Bush changed policy at the urging of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toward the end of his second term—the prerequisite even for any direct talks with Tehran.

The latest sanctions would ban Iran from pursuing “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” freeze the assets of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other companies related to the program, and prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons—except, notably, the surface-to-air S-300 missiles Iran bought from Russia, and still wants to have delivered. Washington threw in this bribe to win over Moscow.

The U.S. also watered down provisions on financial and energy-related sanctions to win over the Russians and Chinese. But Turkey and Brazil, which are pushing their own nuclear deal with Iran struck earlier this month, oppose the measure, as does Lebanon. Their dissent will deprive the U.S. of the image of diplomatic unity on Iran, which had been so central to the Obama strategy.

If passed, the sanctions may bite the bottom lines of some Revolutionary Guard brass and force Iran to be even more creative about developing its atomic bomb and the missiles needed to deliver it. But Iran has gotten around similarly toothless U.N. measures in the past decade without much trouble, and nothing suggests this time will be different.

From Bush to Obama, the U.S. strategy toward Iran has oscillated between naive and unserious. We now stand months from Iran reaching a nuclear breakout capability. Unless credible options to stop Iran are put on the table, the risk of violent confrontation with Tehran—instigated by Israel or not—rises with each day.

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