Monday, June 17, 2013

MEMRI: Iranian Nuclear Program - from Uranium to Plutonium

While the world deludes itself with the ‘moderation’ of Hassan Rohani…

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis|981| June 17, 2013
Leap Forward In Iran's Nuclear Program: Plutonium Route At Arak Heavy Water
Reactor Simplifies Path To Attaining Nuclear Weapon
By: A. Savyon and Y. Mansharof*

On June 8, 2013, Iran inaugurated the main nuclear fission container at the
heavy water reactor in Arak. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
director Fereydoon Abbasi remarked at the event that Tehran had taken "an
important step in the advancement of the project."[1]

In its most recent report, published May 30, 2013, the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) noted that Iran has made progress in the construction
and operation of the Arak heavy water reactor despite the demand by the U.N.
Security Council in recent years that this activity be suspended. The report
also stated that Iran has notified the IAEA that it intends to activate the
reactor by the end of 2014 for manufacturing radioactive isotopes for
medical purposes.

This month, the IAEA Board of Governors expressed its criticism of Iran for
failing to construct the Arak reactor in accordance with the IAEA-approved
model; in addition, it noted that since 2006, Iran had failed to supply the
agency with all planning information concerning the reactor, as required by
IAEA regulations.[2] At the same time, Iran is continuing to prevent the
IAEA from inspecting the heavy water reactor, claiming that heavy water is
not a nuclear material that requires supervision – even though this kind of
reactor can produce weapons-grade fissile material via the plutonium route.


The installation of the nuclear fission container at the heavy water reactor
in Arak has several ramifications:

It will force the international community to recognize Iran as a nuclear
power, as Tehran continues to adhere to its claim that heavy water is not a
nuclear material that requires supervision and that the IAEA will therefore
not be allowed to inspect its facilities.
With this move, Tehran has decided to break through the deadlock in the
nuclear talks by shifting the focus to the plutonium route and moving the
uranium enrichment route to the back burner.

By stepping up the plutonium route by operating the heavy water reactor at
Arak, Iran aims to eliminate the possibility of a military attack on its
nuclear facilities – because attacking a plutonium reactor that has been
activated and is operating will have, inter alia, very grave environmental

What Is The Arak Heavy Water Reactor For?

While Tehran is declaring that the Arak heavy water reactor will be used to
produce isotopes for medical purposes and that it will replace the obsolete
research reactor in Tehran, the Tehran reactor is still in operation and has
not been shut down. Furthermore, Iran has stockpiled enough uranium enriched
to 20% to keep the Tehran reactor operating for years to come.

Why, then, does Iran need two facilities with two different routes – uranium
enrichment in Tehran and plutonium in Arak – to manufacture the same
isotopes, especially when the Arak reactor offers the easiest and most
common way to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon?

On June 10, 2013, the Iranian website, which is close to Iran's
Supreme National Security Council that conducts the nuclear talks vis-א-vis
the international community, published an article exposing Tehran's
intention to focus the nuclear talks on the plutonium route, as opposed to
the uranium-enrichment route that is underway at the Fordo and Natanz

The article also mentioned the fact that a heavy water reactor could be the
easiest path to the production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Following are excerpts from the article:

The Arak Reactor "Will Dominate The Talks"

"The installation of the main container at the Arak reactor a few days
before the presidential election indicates that Iran has decided to set a
new atmosphere, new conditions, and a new agenda in advance of the next
round of talks with the P5+1. Diplomats in Tehran are saying that while the
issue of enrichment to a level of 20% at Fordo has been the focus of the
talks so far, it is very likely that during 2013, and especially in early
2014, this issue will be pushed aside, and the issue of Arak itself will
dominate the talks.

"The West has always portrayed Iran's nuclear program as one with military
potential. According to this view, the Arak facility, and especially the
heavy water reactor, is more important than [the facilities in] Fordo and
Natanz, because it could be one of the easiest and most conventional ways of
producing plutonium, which is currently the classic method used worldwide to
produce nuclear weapons.

"Iran has announced that the 40-megawatt heavy water reactor at Arak will
gradually replace the research reactor in Tehran, which is already producing
isotopes required [to combat] hundreds of thousands of types of cancer.
However, taking into account the end of the effective life of this reactor
[in Tehran], it will soon need to be shut down and replaced with another

"Although these isotopes have no use other than medical, Iran imported no
isotopes for over 20 years, because of the sanctions. Even so, the West does
not see this issue in this way.

"The closer the Arak reactor comes to completion, the more attention it will
receive from the West; the more attention it receives, the more the issue of
Fordo and [uranium] enrichment to 20% will be pushed aside.

"Some diplomats estimate that the next round of [nuclear] talks with Iran
will not take place before the fall of 2013, and by that time, the Arak
reactor project will have advanced significantly. Thus, it is assumed that
the next time the P5+1 sits down at the negotiating table with Iran, its
priorities will have shifted, and it will have to focus on the [need] to
reach a deal with Iran regarding the Arak reactor project, instead of
discussing Fordo and [uranium] enrichment to 20%.

"Diplomats are assessing that the issue of Arak will soon be added to the
P5+1's official proposals to Iran, and that in order for it to be realistic,
any new proposal – which according to Western diplomats will be presented to
Iran immediately after its [presidential] election – will have to include
the issue of Arak.

"A diplomat in Tehran told []: 'Iran will step up the Arak
project, and by doing so will change the course of the talks [with the

*A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a
Research Fellow at MEMRI.

[1] Fars (Iran), June 9, 2013.
[2] Press TV (Iran), June 6, 2013.
[3], June 10, 2013.

Scientific American-   Interactive periodic table

The June 14 Iranian presidential election was won by Hassan Fereidoun Rowhani. With approximately 51 percent of the votes, he was far ahead of the five other candidates.

Rowhani was born in 1948 in the north Iranian city of Sorkheh, Semnan Province. He is a cleric who carries the title Hojjat-ol-Eslam. In 1960 he began studying religion in Semnan Province and then transferred to the religious seminary in the city of Qom. As a young man he was involved in the revolutionary movement against the Shah, for which he was arrested on several occasions by Iran’s security services. In 1978 he joined Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, who was living in exile in Paris.

He has received extensive Western education in addition to his religious training. He has a B.A. in law from Tehran University as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in law from Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland.

Rowhani is one of the founders of the Iranian regime and, even though his political status has declined over the past several years, he still holds several important roles in the regime. In 1980-2000 he was a Majles member. Since 1991 he has been a member of the Expediency Discernment Council and head of its Center for Strategic Studies. Since 1999 he has also been a member of the Assembly of Experts, which oversees the activity of the Supreme Leader. In addition, he has held a number of security positions, including chairman of the Majles Defense Committee (1985-1989), deputy commander-in-chief during the Iran-Iraq War (1988-1989), supreme commander of civil defense (1985-1990), and commander of the Khatam-ol-Anbiya Headquarters.

His most notable position so far has been secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (1989-2005). He is still Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s personal representative on the council. As secretary of the council, he was put in charge by Khamenei of Iran’s nuclear case and represented Iran in the nuclear talks with the international community. During his term as secretary he was a key partner in directing the nuclear policy and was instrumental in Iran’s decision to suspend the enrichment of uranium in 2003. His conciliatory approach drew criticism from conservative circles, and he resigned from the council after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as president in 2005.

Rowhani is considered a close ally of former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He is affiliated with the pragmatic wing of the traditional-conservative camp, but also has the support of the reformist camp thanks to his moderate positions.

His views on the nuclear issue are considered relatively pragmatic. While he does stress that Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy, he supports a more lenient stance on achieving that right and conducting the nuclear negotiations. In the June 7 presidential debate, Rowhani expressed support for his country’s uranium enrichment program but said that it’s not only about keeping the centrifuges in motion—it’s also about making sure that Iranians can live well. He also said that the nuclear program should not be pursued if it means closing down factories. He criticized the uncompromising approach taken by Sa’id Jalili, the current secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, in the nuclear negotiations with the world powers and argued that it is the government’s extremist policy over the past several years that led to the U.N. Security Council’s decision to impose sanctions on Iran. He also reiterated his stance, which he has expressed in the past several years, in favor of the nuclear policy pursued by Iran during his term as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

Rowhani has also taken a moderate stance on the issue of Iran’s relationship with the United States and called for an improvement in Tehran-Washington relations. In a recent interview to the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Rowhani said that he strives for a dialogue between the Iranian and the American people to achieve mutual respect between the two nations.

During the presidential campaign he also discussed regional issues in Iran’s foreign policy, calling for a de-escalation of tensions between Iran and its Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, and announcing his intention to strengthen Iran’s ties with Arab countries. In the interview to Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Rowhani reiterated Iran’s official stance on the crisis in Syria, based on supporting the Syrian regime and accusing foreign governments of fanning the violence in the country and supporting radical Islamic groups working against President Asad. However, he also called for free elections in Syria in 2014 and for the election of a government that will be able to restore stability and security to the country.

As for the Israeli-Arab conflict, Rowhani stated that the Palestinian issue has a prominent place in Iran’s foreign policy, and that Iran will continue supporting the Palestinians after the presidential election. He said that the only solution to the Palestinian problem is to realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people and fully restore their rights.
In the economic sphere, Rowhani holds liberal views supporting the decrease of the government’s involvement in economy. He is partial to the policy pursued by Rafsanjani during his presidential term (1989-1997), based on privatization, deregulation, and economic openness. During the presidential campaign he announced his intention to reopen a number of economic institutions closed down in recent years by President Ahmadinejad, including the Management and Planning Organization and the Supreme Economic Council. He noted that he intends to continue the subsidy policy reform launched by Ahmadinejad, with changes designed to make it more successful and effective.
In the area of domestic policy, Rowhani declared his support in principle for expanding individual rights and the freedom of the press and expression, and for loosening censorship restrictions. He also called for the release of political prisoners, including those detained in the 2009 riots.

Rowhani’s ability to promote domestic policy reforms, advance political initiatives in the regional and international scene, and make a real change in Iran’s policy depends on how much leeway he will get from the Supreme Leader to implement his plans.

Iran's new president Hassan Rohani is no moderate.
'There's a sucker born every minute" is one of those great American phrases, fondly and frequently repeated by Americans, who tend to forget that it was said mainly about Americans. In the election of Hassan Rohani as Iran's president, we are watching the point being demonstrated again by someone who has demonstrated it before.
Who is Mr. Rohani? If all you did over the weekend was read headlines, you would have gleaned that he is a "moderate" (Financial Times), a "pragmatic victor" (New York Times) and a "reformist" (Bloomberg). Reading a little further, you would also learn that his election is being welcomed by the White House as a "potentially hopeful sign" that Iran is ready to strike a nuclear bargain.
All this for a man who, as my colleague Sohrab Ahmari noted in these pages Monday, called on the regime's basij militia to suppress the student protests of July 1999 "mercilessly and monumentally." More than a dozen students were killed in those protests, more than 1,000 were arrested, hundreds were tortured, and 70 simply "disappeared." In 2004 Mr. Rohani defended Iran's human-rights record, insisting there was "not one person in prison in Iran except when there is a judgment by a judge following a trial."
Mr. Rohani is also the man who chaired Iran's National Security Council between 1989 and 2005, meaning he was at the top table when Iran masterminded the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people, and of the Khobar Towers in 1996, killing 19 U.S. airmen. He would also have been intimately familiar with the secret construction of Iran's illicit nuclear facilities in Arak, Natanz and Isfahan, which weren't publicly exposed until 2002.
In 2003 Mr. Rohani took charge as Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, a period now warmly remembered in the West for Tehran's short-lived agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its nuclear-enrichment work. That was also the year in which Iran supposedly halted its illicit nuclear-weapons' work, although the suspension proved fleeting, according to subsequent U.N. reports.
Then again, what looked to the credulous as evidence of Iranian moderation was, to Iranian insiders, an exercise in diplomatic cunning. "Negotiations provided time for Isfahan's uranium conversion project to be finished and commissioned, the number of centrifuges at Natanz increased from 150 to 1,000 and software and hardware for Iran's nuclear infrastructure to be further developed," Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Mr. Rohani's spokesman at the time, argues in a recent memoir. "The heavy water reactor project in Arak came into operation and was not suspended at all."
Nor was that the only advantage of Mr. Rohani's strategy of making nice and playing for time, according to Mr. Mousavian.
"Tehran showed that it was possible to exploit the gap between Europe and the United States to achieve Iranian objectives." "The world's understanding of 'suspension' was changed from a legally binding obligation . . . to a voluntary and short-term undertaking aimed at confidence building." "The world gradually came close to believing that Iran's nuclear activities posed no security or military threat. . . . Public opinion in the West, which was totally against Tehran's nuclear program in September 2003, softened a good deal." "Efforts were made to attract global attention to the need for WMD disarmament by Israel."
And best of all: "Iran would be able to attain agreements for the transfer of advanced nuclear technology to Iran for medical, agricultural, power plant, and other applications, in a departure from the nuclear sanctions of the preceding 27 years."
Mr. Mousavian laments that much of this good work was undone by the nuclear hard line Iran took when the incendiary Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

But that's true only up to a point. Iran made most of its key nuclear strides under Mr. Ahmadinejad, who also showed just how far Iran could test the West's patience without incurring regime-threatening penalties. Supply IEDs to Iraqi insurgents to kill American GIs? Check. Enrich uranium to near-bomb grade levels? Check. Steal an election and imprison the opposition? Check. Take Royal Marines and American backpackers hostage? Check. Fight to save Bashar Assad's regime in Syria? That, too. Even now, the diplomatic option remains a viable one as far as the Obama administration is concerned.

Now the West is supposed to be grateful that Mr. Ahmadinejad's scowling face will be replaced by Mr. Rohani's smiling one—a bad-cop, good-cop routine that Iran has played before. Western concessions will no doubt follow if Mr. Rohani can convince his boss, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to play along. It shouldn't be a hard sell: Iran is now just a head-fake away from becoming a nuclear state and Mr. Khamenei has shown he's not averse to pragmatism when it suits him.

The capacity for self-deception is a coping mechanism in both life and diplomacy, but it comes at a price. As the West cheers the moderate and pragmatic and centrist Mr. Rohani, it will come to discover just how high a price it will pay.