Does Iran continue on a nuclear quest?

An article based on the leaked cables in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten claims that Iran has been developing contacts in more than thirty countries, in order to acquire the technology, equipment and raw materials needed to develop a nuclear bomb.

Question:

Do you consider it as some kind of proof Iran really wants to build the atomic bomb although Tehran is saying opposite, and why?

Answers:

Jamsheed Choksy, Professor of Iranian Studies in Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University

The WikiLeaks cables show that Iran still continues on a nuclear quest. The Iranian government’s behavior in stalling, misleading, and hindering the oversight activities of the IAEA arouse much suspicion that the Iranian nuclear program may have more than merely a civilian energy purpose.

Likewise, as the WikiLeaks show, the Iranian government has been acquiring or attempting to acquire technology, equipment, and raw materials from and via several countries including North Korea and China that go well beyond civilian nuclear use — including missile technology, centrifuge designs, and atomic warhead configurations. The Iranian government also has been developing an extensive stealth network of suppliers across the world.

While none of this is definite proof that the Iranian government is developing an atomic weapon, it at least suggest considerable subterfuge which would not be necessary if their nuclear program was merely civilian. The technology, equipment, and raw materials they are obtaining and seeking to obtain would permit them to develop atomic weapons in the future even if they are not developing them now.

So all in all, their actions are most dangerous and very troubling for their neighbors, among whom a nuclear arms race could break out, and for the world.

Let us all hope the next round of negotiations that begin on Friday 21st at Istanbul produce a breakthrough.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Lecturer in the Comparative- and International Politics of the Middle East, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

It is certainly not a smoking gun. Iran has been procuring nuclear technology and dual use equipment through front companies since the country was put under sanctions in the early days after the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which triggered the devastating eight year long war with Iran. Since then the network of front companies has changed and has been extended in accordance with the severity of sanctions. The tighter the sanctions regime, the more Iran was pushed to turn to that network. Nothing that Aftenposten has unearthed is really new to knowledgeable experts on Iran. It is noteworthy, however, that most diplomats seem to agree that the Iranian nuclear energy programme is irreversible. That is important given that some hawks seem to think that they can obliterate it through military means.

Alfred Pijpers, Senior Research Fellow, The Netherlands’ Institute of International Relations “Clingendael”

The leaked cables via Wikileak only confirm the recent findings and fears of the international community, the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) included:

– Iran had accumulated by 2010 enough enriched uranium to be technically able to build at least one atomic bomb, if the Iranian government would decide to do so.
– The total capacity for uranimum enrichment available in Iran today by far supersedes the amount necessary for peaceful energy production, and can, therefore, only be explained by military ambitions.
– The same holds true for the heavy water installations in Arak, which will be able in the near future to produce plutonium, which can only be used for military atomic purposes.
– Iran has most likely worked in secret on military applications (like detoners) for nuclear weapons, as reported by inspectors of the IAEA.
– Iran has a vast programme for medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles, which in the near future are capable of reaching Tel Aviv with nuclear loads (if so decided)
– The nuclear enrichment programme of Iran is prohibited  by a range of decisions and related binding sanctions of the UN Security Council since 2006.

Rouzbeh Parsi, Research Fellow, The European Union Institute for Security Studies

1. Wikileaks material is very interesting in general and for cases like Iran in particular, because it gives us insight in how the US diplomats operate, think and interact on these topics with their counterparts and other parties

2. This is also the major caveat: wikileaks is not a record of reality or truth, it is like everything else a person or a groups account of what they perceive to be reality or think their superiors want to hear. Doesn’t make it ‘untrue’ just makes it one side of a by definition multisided story.

3. The material in the Norwegian article can be read in many ways, they have chosen the most dramatic ones. Iran is purchasing nuclear tech related material anywhere it can get it because the UNSC sanctions forbid them from doing it on the ‘open’ market. Whether all the purchases are connected to the same end goal, i.e. nuclear weapons, is less clear.

4. So in a sense these factoids will be pieced together in a way that fits the assumptions we begin with. Missile tech becomes nuclear missile tech if you think they are trying to get a nuclear weapon (we already know they have a missile prg because they brag about it).

5. They have mastered the tech to enrich so now its a question of ambition and resources, how much they intend to enrich, low and/or high grade. This is not so much a technical question as one of political ambition, perception and interpretation of what the other side wants and fears.

6. So in a nutshell this is proof Iran has a nuclear tech prg that tries to keep up the steam regardless of Western/international attempts to curb it. Most likely they want the know how and the industrial capacity to ‘go all the way’ if they feel threatened at some point but whether they are trying to manufacture a nuclear bomb as soon as possible I don’t know – and I doubt anyone outside the prg itself could claim they do either.

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