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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iran Will Have Nuclear Weapons by 2008

Kenneth R. Timmerman

WASHINGTON -- Iran announced over the weekend that it was launching a bomb-scale uranium enrichment program, despite a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze its nuclear activities.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly told a group of students Saturday that Iran had started the installation of 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges at its fuel plant near Natanz, calling it "the first step toward industrial production."

Nuclear Buildup Intensifies

Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf responded Sunday by announcing their intention to launch a joint nuclear development effort "for peaceful purposes."

The United States and Europe have been seeking United Nations sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing programs, but Russia and China have refused to go along.

"Resistance of the Iranian nation in the past year forced them to retreat tens of steps over the Iran's nuclear issue," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Israeli nuclear experts told NewsMax that the installation of the 3,000 centrifuge "pilot plant" at Natanz was a key turning plant in Iran's nuclear weapons development.

"The Iranians are calling this a ‘pilot plant,'" one Israeli analyst noted. "But this isn't a pilot plant; 3,000 centrifuges give them the capability of producing one significant quantity of nuclear fuel per year."

A "significant quantity" (SQ) is the amount of nuclear material needed to manufacture one nuclear device, currently defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as 25 kilograms of uranium, and just 8 kilograms of plutonium.

Right On Schedule

The Israeli government believes it will take Iran approximately nine months to get the 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz up and running, and another year to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a first bomb.

So far, Iran is right on schedule.

In June, the Israelis were estimating that it would take Iran six months to master the technology of the two experimental uranium enrichment cascades they had installed at Natanz. Iran announced that it had mastered that technology earlier this month.

If the Iranians continue to hold to the timeline of their public declarations to the IAEA, they will become a nuclear weapons power by September 2008, just before the next U.S. presidential elections.

But that timeline for Iran's nuclear weapons development is based solely on what Iran has told the IAEA.

"We know that Iran is not telling the full story," an Israeli nuclear expert told NewsMax. "They are not telling lies, but they are not telling the full story."

"There can be no doubt that Iran has a clandestine, parallel nuclear weapons program," a senior Israeli intelligence official told NewsMax last week.

Start of New Arms Race

Even countries that do not agree with the United States that a nuclear-armed Iran poses a threat to international security agree that Iran's actions are likely to spawn a nuclear arms race.

"There is a real concern that Iran's nuclear ambitions could fuel similar ambitions across the Middle East," a Western diplomat in Vienna told NewsMax on Monday.

So far, the United States has not reacted officially to the announcement from Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council of their intention to launch peaceful nuclear research.

However, diplomats in Vienna speculated that the Saudis might be trying to "get in before the door closes" sometime in the next two or three years, once a U.S.-backed program to establish an international "nuclear fuel bank" goes on line.

The U.S. is supporting efforts by developing countries to build nuclear power plants, as long as they forego acquiring sensitive nuclear fuel cycle technologies, as Iran is doing. The nuclear fuel bank would give such countries guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel, virtually eliminating the proflieration risks.

Paula A. DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, stated that the report of GCC nuclear developments was troubling.

"If true, it underscores an important aspect of Iran's noncompliance with its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, namely that one nation's noncompliance, if not addressed and corrected, creates new security concerns for the region and teaches other countries that there are no negative consequences for that behavior," she said.

Meanwhile, in Iraq

Sources in Baghdad reported over the weekend that the Saudis have put their military forces on alert, as rumors circulated of a combined Sunni-Shiite coup in the coming days against the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

Sunni sheikhs in al-Anbar province have told the government they will smash al-Qaida, in exchange for reconstruction money, while moderate Shiites have pledged to move against Muqtada al-Sadr and his Iranian backers.

"This will be extremely violent," a well-placed source in Baghdad said.

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