The Telegraph: Could Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, be more cautious than we think? Instead of treading a straight Roman Road to a nuclear weapon, he has twice veered off course. To me, that suggests that he is nervous and feeling the pressure.
By David Blair
My interview with Ehud Barak in London on Tuesday attracted a good deal of attention and comment. The Israeli defence minister’s most striking statement concerned Iran’s decision to convert much of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium into harmless fuel rods. Without that event, Barak confirmed that the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions would “probably” have peaked about now. Instead, Iran’s decision “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to ten months”.
In his speech before the UN General Assembly in September, Benjamin Netanyahu softened Israel’s position on the possibility of an imminent military strike, saying that the critical moment would arrive next spring or summer. Barak told me that Iran’s move was “in the background of our decision”.
So the figures tucked away on page 8 of the last IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme turned out to be of vital importance. They showed that Iran took 71.25 kg of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium and converted it into fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor, a civilian facility. The uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity is the material that is closest to weapons-grade. Out of a total holding of 189.4 kg, Iran has devoted 37.6 per cent to a peaceful purpose.
One important qualification: an expert working for another government tells me that this conversion is reversible. Iran could, at least in theory, change the fuel rods back into 20 per cent enriched uranium, but the wastage along the way would be considerable. Nonetheless, the decision clearly delays the moment when Iran would have the option of further enriching its uranium into the weapons-grade material needed for a nuclear bomb.
Let me offer a few further thoughts. In 2003, we know that Iran suspended its research on how to build a nuclear warhead (although the evidence suggests that some work was restarted later). Now we know that during the course of this year, Iran took a big chunk of the uranium that was closest to weapons-grade and used it for a harmless purpose. Thanks to Barak’s candour, we also know that this decision probably averted a crisis.
Could Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, be more cautious than we think? Instead of treading a straight Roman Road to a nuclear weapon, he has twice veered off course. To me, that suggests that he is nervous and feeling the pressure. Is the ultimate destination of Iran’s nuclear programme still an open question?