Mullen Sees Iranian Nuke Drive Persisting

(Jun. 29) -U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, shown last week, warned yesterday that Iran might not end its disputed nuclear activities in response to economic pressure (Paul Richards/Getty Images).
(Jun. 29) -U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, shown last week, warned yesterday that Iran might not end its disputed nuclear activities in response to economic pressure (Paul Richards/Getty Images).

Further economic penalties are unlikely to dissuade Iran from continuing its development of nuclear weapons, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said yesterday (see GSN, June 28).

A nuclear-armed Iran would be "incredibly dangerous," and the international community has "no reason to trust" Tehran's longtime insistence that its nuclear intentions are strictly civilian in nature, the Associated Press quoted Mullen as saying. Last year's public revelation that Iran was working on a clandestine uranium enrichment site raised further doubts about the nation's atomic ambitions, he said; the enrichment process can produce civilian fuel as well as nuclear-weapon material (see GSN, Sept. 25).

Still, airstrikes on Iranian nuclear facilities would be "incredibly destabilizing" to the Gulf region, he said, adding that Israel appeared to comprehend the likely consequences of an attack.

Mullen was speaking at a security conference in Aspen, Colo., where he was asked about CIA Director Leon Panetta's assertion that Iran had enough low-enriched uranium to ultimately produce enough material for two nuclear weapons. Panetta said, though, that Iran would need a year to complete the uranium enrichment process and another year to prepare delivery devices.

The main challenge in determining a plan of action on the nuclear standoff is the unresolved questions about Iran's program, Mullen said (Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press/Google News, June 29).

A long-anticipated update to the U.S. intelligence community's formal stance on Iran's nuclear program could still be months from completion, Newsweek yesterday quoted three counterproliferation officials as saying (see GSN, Oct. 16, 2009).

The new report is expected to alter conclusions in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which asserted with "high confidence" that Tehran halted its formal nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and with "moderate confidence" that the effort had not been resumed. The updated assessment is likely to hew closer to foreign intelligence services' beliefs that Iran has maintained the military nuclear effort, though drawing a clear line between suspected ongoing research and actual development of the bomb, according to Newsweek.

No declassified version of the document is expected to be released (Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, June 28).

It was still unclear whether and when Iran intends to make the final drive to build a nuclear weapon, experts told Agence France-Presse yesterday. Such a step would involve expelling IAEA inspectors from nuclear facilities.

"Nobody knows if Iran has taken this decision," said Sharon Squassoni of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's more in their interest to have this ambiguity," she added.

"It's a little tricky to predict when they may make a decision," said David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "But right now, I don't think it's in their interest to make a decision to build the bomb, because they're still too vulnerable to having that program disrupted by military strikes" (Agence France-Presse I/, June 29).

In the wake of Panetta's comments Sunday to ABC News, Russia yesterday asked the CIA to provide any new information it has acquired on Iran's nuclear intentions, ITAR-Tass reported.

“For several years, Iran has been enriching uranium up to 4 percent, and it is a subject of discussion both at the U.N. Security Council and within the framework of the [P-5+1] group,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the process, Iran is currently in possession of more than 2,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium.”

“If we make arithmetic calculations and assume that Iran may use this (low-enriched) uranium to make weapon-grade uranium in the quantity sufficient for two atomic bombs, it has been generally known for quite a time,” he noted. “If the CIA has information proving that Iran has actually started to enrich its uranium to a weapon-grade level, this information is new and we are interested to look into it in detail” (ITAR-Tass, June 29).

Meanwhile, delegates for the 15 U.N. Security Council member nations yesterday received a report on putting into effect penalties against Iran, Agence France-Presse reported. A new panel of specialists is expected to carry out implementation of the sanctions.

"When fully established, the panel will be our eyes and ears in the field," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said, noting that the group would begin work before the "end of this summer."

The Security Council has approved four sanctions resolutions aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear activities, mostly recently this month.

"The effectiveness of the Iran sanctions regime is primarily the responsibility of each and every U.N. member state," Rice said (Agence France-Presse II/, June 28).

Iran should join new talks with Germany and the five permanent Security Council member nations aimed at addressing the nuclear dispute, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday.

"Even with the Security Council's resolution adopted on other sanctions, the door is still open for a negotiated settlement," Reuters quoted Ban as saying. "I will continue to urge the leaders of the world, the concerned parties to continue their negotiations for an eventual resolution of this issue" (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters I/Malaysia Star, June 28).

Russia's Lavrov called for Moscow, Washington and the U.N. nuclear watchdog to hold new talks with Tehran on potential arrangements for exchanging stockpiled Iranian uranium, Reuters reported (Amie Ferris-Rotman, Reuters II, June 29).

Tehran today stressed that it was still willing to discuss a fuel exchange proposal with world powers, even though President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday ruled out further talks for two months on the nation's broader nuclear program, AFP reported.

One plan -- signed last month by Brazil, Iran and Turkey -- calls for Tehran to store 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium in Turkey for one year; other countries would be expected within that period to provide nuclear material refined for use at a Tehran medical research reactor in exchange for the Iran-origin uranium. The arrangement appeared similar to another proposal, formulated in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that was intended to defer the Middle Eastern state's enrichment activities long enough to more fully address U.S. and European concerns about its potential nuclear bomb-making capability. Tehran ultimately rejected the IAEA proposal, which was worked out with France, Russia and the United States. Those nations, in turn, have expressed concerns about the later agreement.

"The answer to the letters sent by the Vienna group [France, Russia and the United States] is being prepared," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said.

"There have been contacts and communication between foreign ministers (of Iran, Brazil and Turkey) last week and we have concluded that this course should continue," Mottaki added. The official did not specify how quickly Tehran was willing join new negotiations (Siavosh Ghazi, Agence France-Presse III/Google News, June 29).

Any new fuel exchange negotiations "but the talks will be held on the basis of the Tehran declaration," Ahmadinejad said yesterday.

"Naturally if France, Russia and the U.S. are coming from the other side, from this side it will be Iran, Turkey and Brazil who will participate in the talks," he said (Agence France-Presse IV/, June 28).

In the United States, former senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian has begun writing about Iranian diplomatic tactics over its nuclear program as a visiting scholar at Princeton University, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

U.S. and European diplomats said they were carefully monitoring Mousavian's writing for useful information

"The target of the recent (U.N. sanctions) resolution was to soften Iran's position in regard to its nuclear program, but in reality it will only serve to radicalize its position," he wrote in one document circulated at the university (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, June 29).

Elsewhere, Moscow yesterday raised a grievance with the Security Council over Germany's confiscation of items heading to Iran's unfinished Bushehr nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. Diplomats said the shipment violated EU regulations (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters III, June 28).

In addition, the French petroleum firm Total yesterday announced it would halt gasoline sales to Tehran and the Spanish firm Repsol indicated it would not participate in a contract to develop a major Iranian gas field (Reuters IV/London Independent, June 29).

June 29, 2010

Further economic penalties are unlikely to dissuade Iran from continuing its development of nuclear weapons, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said yesterday (see GSN, June 28).