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Analysis: Adding centrifuges to the fire

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Claude Salhani
Washington (UPI) Sept. 4, 2007
New reports from Iran say the Islamic republic is running more than 3,000 centrifuges, an announcement that is certain to augment fears in Washington and Western Europe that Iran's nuclear program is for military, rather than civilian, use, as Iran's leadership insists.

The announcement was made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday.

This announcement will also likely augment the probabilities of an attack by the United States on Iran's nuclear production plants and installations. Iran's main nuclear facilities, according to Alireza Jafarzadeh, an exile with close links to the Iranian opposition, are the ones at Natanz and Arak.

According to a report published in the London Sunday Times, the Pentagon has drawn up plans to conduct "massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians' military capability in three days." The Times quotes Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, a conservative think tank. Debat told a conference in Washington last week that U.S. military planners are talking "about taking out the entire Iranian military."

With the amount of centrifuges in operation, Iran could now produce enough enriched uranium allowing it to build an atomic weapon within the next 12 months. Should it continue to operate the 3,000 centrifuges and continue to add more units every week, experts say Iran could have a bomb within a year.

"Iran currently has enough parts ready to assemble at least 5,000 centrifuges in the first stage," Jafarzadeh said.

Therefore it is conceivable that the regime has already about 3,000 centrifuges installed.

"It is a major mistake to allow the Iranian regime to buy time to complete its nuclear weapons program, when it has violated the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and has a track record of 20 years of lies and deception," Jafarzadeh said.

"Ahmadinejad has no intention to abandon the nuclear weapons program. To believe that further negotiations with Iran would lead to the freeze of Iran's uranium enrichment program is naive at best," Jafarzadeh told this reporter.

"The only way to contain Iran's nuclear threat is for the international community to come up with much tougher sanctions while tightening political screws on Iran," Jafarzadeh said.

This announcement will no doubt play well to those in Washington favoring a military strike against Iran. And it will help sway the more moderate politicians in Washington who so far have remained opposed to a U.S. military intervention, favoring negotiations compiled with sanctions and political pressure, a tactic known as the carrot-and-stick approach.

No doubt the latest news from Iran will be put to good use by those in favor of a showdown with Iran, come what may, before Iran becomes a full-fledged nuclear power.

The great fear is that terrorist groups could end up in possession of a nuclear device obtained from Iran, so say many officials in Washington, London and Paris.

Addressing nearly 200 of his ambassadors gathered in Paris for what has become a yearly reunion at the Elysee Palace, French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not hide his fears of such an eventuality becoming a reality. The threats we face today, said Sarkozy, "know no borders."

"All countries including those of the Muslim world are now under threat of criminal attack similar to the attacks on New York, Bali, Madrid, Bombay, Istanbul, London and Casablanca.

"Think of what would happen tomorrow if terrorists were to use nuclear, biological or chemical materials," said the French president.

Indeed, a grim thought.

By midweek, no doubt, the administration will have made good use of the latest reports from Iran, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to pound home to the American public the dangers represented by a nuclear-armed Iran.

And it is amid mounting threats of a U.S. tactical strike against the Islamic republic's nuclear facilities that Iran's nuclear scientists will continue to add more centrifuges every week. In so doing, Iran is increasing its ability to become the second nuclear-powered Muslim nation, after Pakistan.

Earlier reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency had put the number of Iran's centrifuge machines well below 3,000.

This new figure of 3,000 operational centrifuges establishes a new -- and potentially dangerous -- landmark, a red line that has been crossed by Iran, say many observers.

But, says Jafarzadeh, "The International Atomic Energy Agency has reached a joint agreement with Iran that is highly favorable to Tehran. The agreement allows Tehran to drag the issue well into 2008. The agreement makes no mention of a number of nuclear sites exposed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, including Lavizan-2, Lashkar Abad, and most of Parchin, which have not been inspected by the IAEA."

(Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times.)

related report
US calls for 'reasonable' Iran nuclear talks
Washington on Tuesday called for "reasonable" Iranians to take up negotiations over Tehran's disputed nuclear program after pragmatic ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected head of a powerful clerical body.

"Certainly we would hope that reasonable individuals in Iran would see the positive opportunity given to it by the international community to enter negotiations and be able to achieve a peaceful nuclear program while still reassuring everyone else that it is not simply a cover for building a nuclear weapon," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

Casey was asked to comment on Rafsanjani's election Tuesday to head Iran's Assembly of Experts, part of a political comeback for the former president as his pragmatic faction faces off against hardliners allied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani has struck a moderate tone on the nuclear issue compared to the defiant Ahmadinejad.

"I'd like to believe that there are individuals in the Iranian leadership that would want to take what is in effect a rather unique and important opportunity, to allow Iran to engage with the rest of the international community, " Casey told reporters.

He said Tehran had a chance to allay concerns about its nuclear ambitions, secure a civilian atomic energy program and have for the first time "face-to-face" talks with major powers including the United States.

Asked if Rafsanjani could be described as "reasonable," Casey said: "I don't know. I think what is reasonable will depend on what policies are adopted."

The State Department spokesman also welcomed the release of Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, 67, who had been held in Tehran's Evin prison since May. The Iranian regime accused Esfandiari of helping an alleged US plot to topple Iran's rulers, a charge her family and colleagues dismissed.

"I want to join with the Wilson Center and her friends and family, not only here in the United States but throughout the world, in welcoming Mrs Esfandiari's release," Casey said.

"We are very glad to see her depart Iran and to see her individual case resolved."

Esfandiari, who heads the Wilson Center's Middle East program in Washington, was released on August 21 and left the country on Monday. She said she had spent 105 days in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin jail, but did not detail her conditions in detention.

Another US-Iranian scholar, Kian Tajbakhsh, is to be released on bail after spending over three months in jail in Tehran on security-related charges, a top judiciary official in Tehran said on Tuesday.

And a US-Iranian journalist, Parnaz Azima, who works for Radio Free Europe's US-funded Persian language service, has been given permission to leave the country. She had been stuck in Iran for the last seven months after her passport was confiscated.

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Iran's Ahmadinejad has 'proof' US won't attack
Tehran (AFP) Sept 3, 2007
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sought to justify his confidence the United States will not attack Iran, saying the proof comes from his mathematical skills as an engineer and faith in God, the press reported on Monday.

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