Buried within this story about UN Security Council disagreements over the approach to take regarding Iran was this boldfaced lie by Mr. Bolton:
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said his government’s patience with negotiations is running out.
He said Iran used the time involved in the talks with France, Germany and Britain to enrich enough uranium to produce nuclear weapons.
“That is why our negotiating process will not be indefinite,” Bolton said.
Let me be real clear about this. The claim by Bolton that Iran has enriched enough uranium to make a bomb is demonstrably false, and Bolton knows it. How do I know this? Follow me below the fold and I’ll tell you . . .
To begin, let me remind you that Iran only started enriching uranium with a 10-20 centrifuge cascade back in February. What does that mean? Well, according to arms control expert David Albright, it means that there is no chance Iran can produce enough enriched uranium to make atomic weapons because you need thousands of centrifuges carefully aligned in the proper order to make enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon program:
[Interviewer, BERNARD GWERTZMAN of the Council od Foreign Relations:] Talk to me again about centrifuges. Are these big things? How many centrifuges do you need to make nuclear weapons?
[David Albright:] Well, there are many types of centrifuges. And the ones [i.e., centrifuges] that Iran (have) been building and deploying (have) been at Natanz and [are] what have come to be called the P-1. The P-1 is actually a Dutch design originally, I don’t know, two meters high, 100 millimeters in diameter; aluminum is the rotor material, it doesn’t spin that fast, it has some problems in it, it’s actually kind of hard to learn how to operate.
Each centrifuge doesn’t really do that much. It just doesn’t enrich that much and it can’t process that much uranium in a year. So you start connecting them together, both to increase the amount of enrichment, and to increase the amount of uranium that you can push through and to come out as enriched uranium. So if Iran right now wants to run a 164-machine cascade, they won’t really make much material.
In the end centrifuges are rather precious to the Iranians. And so you don’t want to break too many of them. If they wanted to make enough enriched uranium for a bomb program, they could get by with 1,500 centrifuges operated in cascades, and that would give them enough highly enriched uranium for about one bomb a year. If they wanted to make enough to fuel the Bushehr reactor [being built for Iran by the Russians], they would need about 50,000 operating centrifuges, of enriched uranium.
Some have placed the number of centrifuges Iran would need for a bomb program as high as 3000 or more. In addition, as Albright points out, Iran still has significant hurdles to overcome just to get the centrifuges it does have operating sufficiently to enrich even small quantities of uranium.
By the way, just who is this David Albright and why should we trust his word over that of John Bolton? Well he’s . . .
. . . president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) . . .
You can find a link to the Insititute for Science and International Security HERE. More information regarding Albright’s qualifications and resume can be found HERE. The short version: he’s a physicist who has taught at George Mason University and Princeton, from 1992-1997 he served with the IAEA action team tasked with analysing documets pertinent to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, and in 1996 he became the first non-governmental inspector of the Iraqi nuclear program.
He was also the person who first identified that the Bush administration’s claim (reported in a story published in the New York Times under David Sanger’s byline) that computer files obtained through covert means showed that Iran had the design for a nuclear warhead that could be placed on a missile was
complete and utter bullshit clearly false:
The November 13, 2005 New York Times article “Relying on Computer, US Seeks to Prove Iran’s Nuclear Aims” has a deep and misleading flaw. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger repeatedly characterize the contents of computer files as containing information about a nuclear warhead design when the information actually describes a reentry vehicle for a missile. This distinction is not minor, and Broad should understand the difference between the two objects, particularly when the information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead. The “black box” carried by the re-entry vehicle may appear to be a nuclear warhead, but the documents do not state what the warhead is. In addition, much of what Broad and Sanger report has been reported elsewhere, including the important information about “a sphere of detonators meant to ignite conventional explosives”(see Agence France Press article by Michael Adler on October 9, 2005). These earlier and more accurate articles did not confuse a nuclear warhead with a reentry vehicle.
By replacing warhead with re-entry vehicle throughout the article, the reasons for a healthy skepticism would also become more understandable. For example, a key question becomes much more clear, namely whether this work was initiated by an Iranian missile team on its own, or whether this work was ordered by Iran’s political leadership as part of a concerted nuclear weapons effort? Another important question that is sidestepped by the misleading use of warhead in the article is whether Iran can build the relatively small nuclear warhead able to fit into the triconic re-entry vehicle apparent in photos of a 2004 flight test. Based on publicly available photos of the 2004 test launch, the nuclear warhead would require a diameter of about 600 millimeters. Achieving such a diameter would be challenging for Iran. For example, the diameter of the warhead in the design provided to Libya (and perhaps to Iran) by A.Q. Khan was about 900 millimeters. A legitimate question is wheth er Iran could successfully build such a small nuclear warhead without outside help.
I think David Albright knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program far more than Mr. Bolton does, don’t you?
Now I know that the wingnuts out there are going to claim that just because Iran’s known nuclear facilities do not contain enough centrifuges to produce enough enriched uranium for nuclear weapons doesn’t mean that Iran doesn’t have a “secret program” where it has been hard at work producing enriched uranium with thousands of centrifuges that no one knows about. In response to this rank speculation posing as a legitimate argument, let me make three points.
First, if true, why would Iran choose to openly begin enriching uranium on a much smaller scale at its nuclear facility in Narantz, a facility which has been regularly subject to IAEA inspections under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty protocols? What purpose would that serve? Far better to keep its nculear program hidden from foreign inspections than to open up a Pandora’s box of international scrutiny regarding its nuclear intentions. Announcing their intent to enrich uranium, even on this small, militarily insignificant scale, has already incurred the real risk of an attack on its facilities by Israel and/or the United States in response.
Far better for them to lay back in the weeds and wait until they have successfully tested a nuclear device before announcing a plan to enrich uranium, don’t you think? In other words, if Iran has a secret program which has produced enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, what possible reason would it have for announcing that it is starting up a small scale research project to do the exact same thing Bolton claims it has been doing secretly on a much larger scale? It simply makes no damn sense.
Second, if Iran has already produced enough weapons grade uranium to make a bomb, the US wouldn’t be taking this hardline diplomatic approach, one almost guaranteed to lead to a military confrontation. How do I know this? That’s easy. All one has to do is look at the case of North Korea. Not once in the Bush administration’s confrontation with that small impoverished Marxist dictatorship did the Bush administration used rhetoric 1/10th as inflammatory has it does with Iran on a regular basis. Nor did Bush end up taking the matter to the United Nations. Instead he pursued the diplomatic track with his allies and partners in the region, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Why? Because he was convinced that North Korea already had nuclear weapons and he was unwilling to risk their use against our forces, or against civillian targets, in any potential showdown with the North Korean military.
If Iran has enough nuclear material to make a bomb, or, to be more precise, Bush and Bolton really believe that it does, they would not have pushed to refer this matter to the United Nations, nor would they have cut off Russia’s nascent diplomatic efforts to seek a compromise through direct negotiations with Iran, as they so cavilierly did the other day.
If there’s one thing we know, Bush is a bully. He doesn’t like to pick on anyone who has the wherewithal to do serious injury to our military forces. His completely different “solutions” to the problems posed by Iraq and North Korea clearly demonstrate that. Iraq was weak miltarily so we invaded it with impunity despite all the dangerous talk of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. North Korea, on the other hand, had formidible armed forces, and atomic weapons. He pursued diplomacy in that case, Bolton’s occasional blustering to the contrary.
Third, we know that Bush (and Bolton) are getting their so-called intelligence about Iran’s nuclear weapons program from some highly dubious sources. One of them is the MEK, a marxist oriented terrorist organization bent on overthrowing the current regime in Iran:
MEK has long been controversial because of its history of violent attacks in Iran, its relationship with Saddam’s regime and its background as a quasi-religious, quasi-Marxist radical resistance group founded in the era of the late Iranian shah. In 1997, the Clinton administration put MEK on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups. […]
Despite the group’s notoriety, Bush himself cited purported intelligence gathered by MEK as evidence of the Iranian regime’s rapidly accelerating nuclear ambitions. At a March 16 press conference, Bush said Iran’s hidden nuclear program had been discovered not because of international inspections but “because a dissident group pointed it out to the world.” White House aides acknowledged later that the dissident group cited by the president is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), one of the MEK front groups added to the State Department list two years ago.
Other exiled Iranian dissident groups with an agenda of regime change also have provided information regarding Iran’s “secret nuclear weapons program” to the Bush administration of a highly questionable nature. As we know, Bush, Cheney and others in their foreign policy team used questionable intelligence of this sort (the name Chalabi ring any bells?) to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In short, they don’t have a particulary good track record when it comes to claims that oil rich countries they don’t happen to like in the Middle East are engaged in obtaining nuclear weapons. Nothing they have come forward so far with respect to Iran gives me any confidence that this time they have “got it right.”
So don’t believe Mr Bolton when he claims that Iran has enough processed uranium to make a bomb. He’s just blowing smoke to justify his favored approach to Iran: a military attack. His real purpose, as Juan Cole noted yesterday, is regime change in Iran.
It’s past time for all of us, but especially our Democratic Party leaders, to stand up to these lies and call him and President Bush on their
bullshit phony claims about Iran’s nukes before American bombs start falling once more on another Islamic country.