Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Iran's Nuke Program not Weapons-capable: Report

Iran's Nuke Program not Weapons-capable, UN Official Says: Report

As experts argue Iran's nuclear status, 'change' may come in the country's presidential election

By Jeremy Gantz

Can Iran build a nuclear bomb?

The new answer to that long-debated question is "yes," if you ask the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS). The non-partisan think-tank, which focuses on stopping nuclear proliferation, released a report Thursday citing a brand-new report from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog that declared Iran had reached "nuclear weapons breakout capability."

Not so fast, says an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, which released its report Thursday, according to IAEA's website. The report can be found here, at ISIS's website.

"We think they're not there yet," the UN nuclear official told Press TV, speaking on condition of anonymity. (Press TV is "the first Iranian international news network," according to its website.)

The anonymous official said the Iranian enrichment program is "under surveillance at all times" and that there is no evidence Iran is building a secret facility to produce the enriched uranium required for nuclear bomb fuel.

The IAEA report says that Iran has produced a total of 1,010 kilograms of low enriched uranium hexafluoride as of January 31, 2009. The ISIS report, which can be found here, calls that amount "sufficient for a nuclear weapons breakout capability."

Yet, the IAEA report says that as of February 19th, results of environmental samples taken at fuel enrichment plants indicated that the plants "have been operating as declared [by Iran] (i.e. less than 5.0% U-235 enrichment). Since March 2007, 21 unannounced inspections have been conducted at FEP."

But despite the low-key tone of the U.N.'s new five-page report, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. seized on its findings, calling Friday for "immediate and serious action."

"It's an extremely worrisome report... It emphasizes that with every day passing, Iran is getting closer to a nuclear military capacity," Sallai Meridor told FOXNews.com. "The world must take immediate and serious action in order to prevent this nightmare from happening."

Meridor said sanctions against Iran should be increased, and that if Iran were to achieve nuclear capability, a "nuclear genie" would be released that would "endanger every society in the world."

Obama administration officials have called Iran's uranium enrichment activities an "urgent problem," differing little from former president George W. Bush's administration on the issue, although Obama has said he's willing to negotiate with Iran.

Iran denies trying to build a nuclear bomb. "Iran has observed international regulations and depriving Iran of nuclear technology is impossible," Ali Larijani, the country's parliament speaker, said Saturday while visiting former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during a meeting in Tehran.

Meanwhile in Iran Saturday, Iranian authorities blocked two websites promoting the presidential bid of Mohammed Khatami, according to reformists supporting the former president, the Associated Press reported.

The blockages – Yaarinews.com and Yaari.ir could not be accessed from within Iran, but were viewable outside of the country – signals that hard-liners supporting current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may seek to stop Khatami from winning the June 12th election. Khatami, who declared on Feb. 8th he was running for president again, made dialogue with the West a major part of his eight years as president, which ran from 1997 to 2005.

"Reformist opponents assume they can block the path of people's understanding but people are wise enough to judge these actions," prominent Khatami ally Majid Ansari said, referring to the website blockages.

If the moderate Khatami were to win June's election, it might in some ways mirror Obama's victory. Obama has signaled a willingness to dialogue with Iran – a clear break from Bush, who famously labeled Iran part of the "Axis of Evil" – particularly over the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear program.

"On Nov. 4, 2008, change came to America. On June 12, 2009, hopefully change will come to Iran," Morgan Negrin wrote Friday in Pipe Dream, Binghamton University's student newspaper.

But it is unclear how the outcome of June's election will alter what is – or is not, depending on who's speaking – happening in Iran's nuclear power program.

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