Iran’s defiant regime boasted this week about the nuclear progress it claims to have made despite growing sanctions and international pressure to halt its nuclear weapons program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presided over a high-profile televised ceremony in which he inserted what was described as an Iranian-made fuel rod into a nuclear research reactor in Tehran. The regime claims that it needs to enrich uranium to about 20 percent in order to fuel the research reactor, which is an important part of the cover story that it uses to mask its military program. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to arm a nuclear weapon.
One nuclear expert questioned whether Iran really had the capability to make fuel rods that would be compatible with the reactor and noted that the fuel needed to be tested to assure that the reactor could be operated safely: “If Iran is really running the reactor with untested fuel plates, then my advice to the residents surrounding the building would be to move somewhere else. It will be unsafe.”
Iran also announced that it had installed a new generation of centrifuges that are capable of enriching uranium more efficiently at its enrichment facility at Natanz. If true, this would accelerate the buildup ofIran’s stockpile of enriched uranium.
The U.S. State Department dismissed Iran’s claims as “hype.” Ahmadinejad’s claims undoubtedly are exaggerated, but they illuminate an underlying truth: His regime is determined to push on with its nuclear program despite international pressure.
Meanwhile, to deflect that growing pressure, Iran once again has offered to resume talks on the nuclear issue. The last time it agreed to a meeting on the nuclear issue in January 2011, Tehran immediately torpedoed the talks by refusing to negotiate until all sanctions were lifted. Expect more Iranian stalling if and when talks are resumed.
Washington cannot afford to be drawn into endless talks that allow Iran to buy time to complete its nuclear weapons project. It must structure any talks to produce immediate and decisive results in halting Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Otherwise, Israelis likely to take military action in anticipatory self-defense. There is very little time left to stop Iran’s nuclear program by means short of war.