The headlines are scary. “Iran ready to build nuclear weapon, analysts say,” screams CNN. “Iran Has More Enriched Uranium Than Thought,” shouts the New York Times. “Iran has enough uranium to make bomb,” proclaims the Jerusalem Post.
Don’t believe any of this nonsense.
What Iran has is one ton or so of low-enriched uranium. You can’t build a bomb with that. To do so, Iran would first have to re-enrich all of it to weapons-grade uranium, which it isn’t doing. Right now that uranium is under lock and key, watched over by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In order to enrich it, Iran would have to do so right in front of the inspectors, who’d tell us all about it, or kick the inspectors out and do it secretly. Either way, (a) we’d know about it, and (b) it would still take Iran a long time, many months, if not a year or two, and that’s assuming that they do it right and that the machines don’t break down.
So President Obama can relax.
I’m not one of those Pollyannas who think that the Iranians are all innocent. In my view, the mullahs who run Iran want a bomb. Some analysts believe that they’re pushing ahead as quickly as they can to get there, while others think that what Iran wants is simply a “Japan-like” capability to assemble a bomb when and if the Iranian military thinks its needed. In any case, however, Iran isn’t there yet, and they haven’t taken the necessary next step, namely, to enrich the fuel to weapons-grade. (Not only that, but we can’t be sure that Iran actually knows how to make a bomb, even if has the enriched uranium, nor — despite its recent missile and satellite launches — does it have the capability to deliver a weapon.)
Buried in the Times story, but headlined elsewhere, is the news that Mohammad ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, says that surprisingly Iran has slowed, not accelerated, its program of enrichment lately, perhaps as a sign to the Obama administration that it wants to talk. ElBaradei called it a “political decision,” meaning that it’s not a technical slowdown.
Another alarmist piece on Iran showed up this week in the Los Angeles Times, headlined: “U.S. now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bomb.” Now, I don’t disagree with the conclusion that Iran is “pursuing” a bomb. But the LA Times story was based on thin reeds. It purported to show that the December, 2007, US National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iran had halted work on its military nuclear program, was being reversed by the Obama administration. Here’s the lede: