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Iranian Atomic Gear Sites Seen Challenging Potential Israeli Attack

Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment complex, shown in an undated satellite image. The decentralized and concealed nature of Iran's apparatus for producing uranium enrichment centrifuges and related components would complicate a potential Israeli strike on the country's nuclear program, congressional analysts said in a recent report (AP Photo/Space Imaging). Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment complex, shown in an undated satellite image. The decentralized and concealed nature of Iran's apparatus for producing uranium enrichment centrifuges and related components would complicate a potential Israeli strike on the country's nuclear program, congressional analysts said in a recent report (AP Photo/Space Imaging).

Any Israeli bid to curb Iran's nuclear program by force would face a significant challenge in the decentralized and concealed nature of Iranian sites that produce the systems and constituent parts for enriching uranium, U.S. legislative analysts said in a recent assessment acquired by Bloomberg on Thursday (see GSN, March 28).

Washington and Tel Aviv each lack comprehensive knowledge on the placement of Iran's uranium enrichment centrifuge "workshops," acting and retired U.S. personnel with an understanding of the matter said in remarks quoted in the Congressional Research Service document. The U.N. Security Council has demanded in multiple resolutions that Iran halt its uranium enrichment program, but Tehran has consistently refused to do so while maintaining the effort is strictly intended to generate fuel for civilian applications.

Iran might be operating "lots" of the facilities, one U.S. government source stated roughly one year ago.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's “knowledge of Iran’s workshops has deteriorated since Iran ended this access in early 2006,” according to the congressional analysts.

Iranian activities involving uranium refinement machines take place at many sites, and a rise in involved personnel suggests the facilities are likely to have increased in quantity "many times" over in the last seven years, a one-time U.S. insider with “direct experience” on the matter said in February.

Every calculation on the outcome of a potential attack on Iran must take into account the distribution of such sites, which the report says render vague “what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons” (Gienger/Capaccio, Bloomberg, March 29).

Washington believes Azerbaijan would permit Israeli use of four airstrips to potentially stage an airstrike on Iran, four U.S. diplomatic and armed forces intelligence officials said in comments reported by Foreign Policy magazine on Wednesday (Mark Perry, Foreign Policy, March 28). A spokesman for Azerbaijan's president on Thursday dismissed the claim as untrue, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 29).

The use of U.S. or Israeli armed force against Iran's atomic efforts could prompt decisive steps by the Persian Gulf regional power to establish a nuclear weapons stockpile, Reuters on Wednesday quoted independent and government-affiliated critics of military options as saying. The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies have said recently they do not believe Iran's leaders have made an official decision to seek a nuclear weapon.

"It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja wrote in a commentary published by the New York Times last week. "And once such a decision was made, it would only be a matter of time before a nuclear-armed Iran became a reality."

Iran would be likely to speed up its nuclear efforts and eject IAEA monitors in response to armed action, and the use of force could set back the nation's atomic progress by just a small number of years, unidentified U.S. government insiders said in comments reported by the independent International Crisis Group.

"Once U.N. inspectors are expelled, Iran could reconstitute its nuclear infrastructure, this time unambiguously geared to producing a bomb," said Ali Vaez, an expert with the organization.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden in January said armed force would ensure the emergence of "an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, March 28).

"Hard-nosed [U.S.] diplomacy" is necessary to avert "a mad dash" by Iran to acquire atomic armaments, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

“To have any prospect of success, we need an approach that gives diplomatic engagement space to breathe, without allowing Iran to play for time and drag us into a drawn-out process,” The Hill quoted Kerry as saying. A single multilateral gathering has little chance of producing "a dramatic breakthrough," he added in reference to anticipated talks next month between Iran and six world powers.

Former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering called for careful consideration ahead of any attack against the Middle Eastern state.

“The risks we and others would take, including Israel, are far more significant than the advantages we might achieve,” Pickering stated (Jeremy Herb, The Hill, March 28).

Attacks on Iran could result in extremist attacks on "soft American targets" around the globe, Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.

"Iran or surrogates could attack businesses, nongovernmental organizations, missionaries and virtually every American establishment in the region and beyond," according to Pickering. He said such a move would have a significant probability of "driving Iran into the direction of openly declaring and deciding ... to make a nuclear weapon seemingly to defend itself."

Pickering urged Washington and partnered governments to pursue an earlier Iranian offer to end production of 20 percent-enriched uranium in exchange for fuel for a medical isotope production reactor. The higher-enriched material enables the nation to potentially more quickly produce nuclear-weapon fuel, which must be refined to roughly 90 percent (Agence France-Presse I/Zee News, March 29).

"Some freezing or easing of sanctions might be a fair quid pro quo" for Iran's potential relinquishment of stockpiled 20 percent uranium, the former official said (Agence France-Presse II, March 28).

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the atomic standoff during a meeting on Thursday, according to Iranian state media.

Ahmadinejad was anticipated to receive details from the Turkish leader on the positions of the six major governments set to join Iran for a new round of atomic discussions, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

Iranian officials last met with representatives from the six negotiating powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- on two separate occasions in December 2010 and January 2011, but neither gathering yielded clear progress toward resolving concerns about Iranian atomic operations (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011; Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Europe Online Magazine, March 29).

Erdogan on Wednesday said his country "is against any pressure over peaceful nuclear activities,” Iran's Mehr News Agency reported (Mehr News Agency, March 28).

Turkey does "not have a common goal with Iran to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey. On know-how or on any other subject related to that, we will not work with the Iranians,” Euronews TV on Thursday quoted Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz as saying (Bayraktar Bora, Euronews TV, March 29).

Elsewhere, the 2012 count of U.S. probes into possible atomic- and weapon-related illicit transfers is nearly 30 percent higher than the number from 36 months ago, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Iran was the intended destination of materials in 83 of the 260 "major export cases" pursued by the United States since 2003, the highest rate of any country (Hosenball/Shiffman, Reuters II, March 28).

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday blacklisted several Iranian engineering companies linked to the nation's Revolutionary Guard. The United States and other countries have targeted the elite military entity over the support it provides to Iranian atomic and missile activities.

A number of organizations and people affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines were also subject to new U.S. penalties (Doug Palmer, Reuters III, March 28).

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday proposed revising a draft set of penalties against Iran to specify that no component of the punitive measures should be "construed as a declaration of war or as an authorization of the use of military force in Iran or Syria,” Politico reported. The Senate Banking Committee and the House of Representatives have approved versions of the legislation (Manu Raju, Politico, March 27).

Iranian petroleum shipments to other countries might continue their decline of recent weeks following President Obama's anticipated determination this week that the international economy could tolerate a further decrease in the oil's availability, the Wall Street Journal reported (Spindle/Faucon, Wall Street Journal, March 29).

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