AP analysis: Iran may be pushing to nuke threshold

Sep 1, 2012, 7:39 PM

Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – A “big and unforgivable” sin. A Western falsehood. An attempt to deprive developing nations of peaceful nuclear technology.

That’s how Iran’s supreme leader addresses allegations that the Islamic Republic seeks atomic weapons.

Iran’s denials _ while forceful and delivered from the pinnacle of its ruling Islamic system _ can carry a distinctly hollow ring among its foes as the U.N. nuclear watchdog piles on worries: Complaining about limits on inspection access and reporting that Tehran is expanding its nuclear fuel labs in a virtually attack-proof underground site.

They are enriching uranium far beyond what’s needed for their lone energy reactor and preventing inspection, adding to the urgency while repeatedly predicting Israel will be destroyed and actively supporting militancy in the region.

But, as Israel increasingly weighs the option of a military strike, Western leaders wary of another Middle East conflict may have to pay closer attention to the claims by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others. Quite possibly, they may be telling the truth. Or at least to a point.

Iran could be shaping its nuclear ambitions after Japan, which has the full scope of nuclear technology _ including the presumed ability to produce warhead-grade material _ but has stopped short of actually producing a weapon. It creates, in effect, a de facto nuclear power with all the parts but just not pieced together.

More than two years ago, Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani essentially embraced Tokyo’s nuclear model during a visit to Japan that included a stop in Nagasaki, of the two cities destroyed by American atomic bombs World War II.

Larijani met with Japanese officials and praised the country’s nuclear program as a symbol of a third path that dates back to the 1970s, when then Japanese Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata told reporters that Japan “certainly” could possess nuclear arms “but has not made them.”

The major difference, however, is Israel and other U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia. They would have to adapt to a huge balance-of-power shift with Iran on the doorstep of having nuclear arms.

Following Japan’s path would allow Iran to push their nuclear technology to the limit while being able to claim it has adhered to its international pledge not to develop a bomb.

Yoel Guzansky, an Iranian affairs expert for Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies, believes Iran could be adopting a Japan-style policy to reach a “nuclear threshold.”

“Israeli can’t live with the uncertainty of a nuclear threshold state,” he said. “Iran could push over (to weapons capability) at any given moment.”

The world, however, has absorbed the game-changing nuclear arms development of states such as China and Pakistan. Israel, too, is believed to have a nuclear arsenal although officials neither confirm nor deny its existence.

This is where Iran might seek seams in the unity of the West and its allies: Could some live with an almost-armed Iran rather than risk a war that could send oil prices skyrocketing and risk spilling conflict across the region?

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would make his anti-Iran case “in a clear voice” later this month at the U.N. General Assembly, which is expected to include Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as head of the Iranian delegation.

In March, Netanyahu colorfully dismissed Iran’s claims of having peaceful nuclear aims: “If it looks like a duck. If it walks like a duck. If it quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck. But this duck is a nuclear duck.”

“We’ve heard all these stories from the Iranians,” said Paul Hirschson, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman. “Nobody believes (Khamenei) … There is no other explanation other than a nuclear military program.”

Khamenei gives a wholly different portrayal _ which, if nothing else, adds to pressure on Israel to allow time for Western sanctions to possibly force concessions from Iran.

“I declare that the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been after nuclear weapons and it will never abandon its right for peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Khamenei told a gathering of the 120-member Nonaligned Movement in Tehran on Thursday.

The group, which includes mostly developing nations in Asia, Africa and South America, was an especially receptive audience. The summit’s final communique Friday said all countries had the right to development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It notably cited Iran.

Khamenei and other Iranian officials strongly push the belief that nuclear technology should not just be in the hands of a few countries, but available to all under U.N. treaties. It’s part of Iran’s wider efforts to become a scientific leader to challenge the West in areas such as aerospace and military systems.

Iran on Saturday signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement with North Korea, which is already believed to have assisted Iran in missile development.

Khamenei earlier this week also repeated his view that pursuit of nuclear weapons violates Islam and is a “big and unforgivable sin.”

“Nuclear arms have neither provided security nor boosted political power,” Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on Iranian state TV.

The U.S. and allies seek to roll back Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, which they fear could eventually lead to atomic weapons.

But Khamenei’s address suggested that Iran could push its enrichment beyond levels needs for medical applications and its lone energy-producing reactor. Already, military commanders have discussed plans for a nuclear-powered sub, which would need uranium at near weapons grade.

A report Thursday by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran now has 1,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges at the subterranean Fordo site south of Tehran _ more than double the number since May. Fordo is still small compared with Iran’s main enrichment facility, but it is considered to have more advanced equipment and is protected under 90 meters (300 feet) of mountain rock.

The report also said Iran has effectively shut down inspections of a separate site _ the Parchin military complex _ suspected of being used for nuclear weapons-related experiments, by shrouding it from spy satellite view with a covering.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the Tehran conference, said urged Iranian officials to “take concrete steps to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.” Ban’s team in Tehran included Jeffrey Feltman, a former top U.S. State Department official who now works at the U.N.

But a report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said the latest U.N. nuclear report raises the prospect of a deepening standoff.

“The IAEA reports Iranian actions that raise growing questions about whether Iran will ever agree to meaningful disclosure, inspection and other verification measures covering its nuclear efforts,” wrote Anthony Cordesman, a Mideast expert at the center.

___

Brian Murphy is bureau chief in Dubai and has covered Iranian affairs for more than 12 years. Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

A fisherman watches smoke rise after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a military unit in...
Associated Press

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters hit by drone strike

An explosive device carried by a makeshift drone blew up Sunday at the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean Peninsula.
12 days ago
Medical syringes are seen with 'Monkeypox' sign displayed on a screen in the backgound in this illu...
Associated Press

Monkeypox declared a global emergency by UN health agency

The expanding monkeypox outbreak in more than 70 countries is an “extraordinary” situation that qualifies as a global emergency.
20 days ago
Chinese paramilitary policemen march in front of the Japanese embassy where the Japanese flag is fl...
Associated Press

Japan’s ex-leader Shinzo Abe assassinated during a speech

TOKYO (AP) — Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated Friday on a street in western Japan by a gunman who opened fire on him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech — an attack that stunned a nation with some of the strictest gun control laws anywhere. The 67-year-old Abe, who was Japan’s […]
1 month ago
Firefighters hose down a burning car after a strike hit a residential area, in Kramatorsk, Donetsk ...
Associated Press

Russia taking ‘operational pause’ in Ukraine, analysts say

Analysts say Russia may be taking an "operational pause" in eastern Ukraine to reassemble forces for a significant offensive.
1 month ago
Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street, after reading a statement in London, Thursda...
Associated Press

One scandal too many: British PM Boris Johnson resigns

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation Thursday after droves of top government officials quit over the latest scandal to engulf him, marking an end to three tumultuous years in which he tried to bluster his way through one ethical lapse after another. Months of defiance ended almost with a shrug as […]
1 month ago
Ukrainian servicemen carry the coffin with the remains of Army Col. Oleksander Makhachek during a f...
Associated Press

As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

ZHYTOMYR (AP) — As soon as they had finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers readied the next hole. Inevitably, given how quickly death is felling Ukrainian troops on the front lines, the empty grave won’t stay that way for long. Col. Oleksandr Makhachek left behind a widow, Elena, and […]
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
AP analysis: Iran may be pushing to nuke threshold