NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

Editorial: IAEA Report: Iran’s Nuclear Program Moving Full Speed Ahead

In what has practically become a ritual by now, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) once again admonished Iran in its latest report for refusing to cooperate with the agency and disregarding international demands with respect to its nuclear program. At this rate, the Islamic Republic could have a breakout capability – that is, all the skills and parts needed to quickly produce a nuclear weapon – by early next year.

The quarterly IAEA report, released August 30, found that Iran has put a great deal of effort into expanding uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow facility, seen as nearly impervious to attack. More than 1,000 centrifuges have been installed at the facility since the last report in May, doubling the number of machines that can churn out enriched uranium from 1,064 to 2,140.

In addition, Iran has been producing 20-percent enriched uranium – only a few technical steps from weapons-grade material – at a heightened pace since February. It has now enriched 418 pounds of uranium to 20 percent, very close to the roughly 570 pounds needed to produce a bomb or nuclear warhead.

Alongside this work, which is subject to IAEA scrutiny, Tehran has attempted to conceal other activities thought to be connected to atomic weapons development. IAEA inspectors have been denied access to the Parchin military facility, which the agency suspects housed a containment vessel to test a nuclear explosion device. Furthermore, since the IAEA first requested to visit Parchin in January, Iran has been busy razing buildings and moving earth there, in an apparent attempt to remove any incriminating evidence from the site.

Amid Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA, the agency has created a special Iran Task Force of approximately 20 experts, who will focus on probing suspicions that Tehran has been – or is – secretly working on developing nuclear weapons. Creating a unit focused on only one country is an unusual move for the nuclear watchdog, indicating frustration over Iran’s conduct and concerns that it is moving closer to the ability to make nuclear weapons.

Such concerns are, of course, shared by much of the international community. Countries around the world are worried not only about the proliferation risks that a nuclear Iran would pose, but also fear the particular convergence in the Islamic Republic between nuclear weapons, a radical ideology and long-range missile capability.

President Obama has made it clear that a nuclear Iran would represent a profound national security threat to the United States. American forces in the Mideast would be in the range of Iranian nuclear missiles, and our economic wellbeing would be vulnerable to blackmail by Tehran, which could dictate how much we pay at the pump. A nuclear Iran would embolden terrorist groups into acting more aggressively under its umbrella, and it would be free to threaten U.S allies in the Persian Gulf in pursuit of its hegemonic goals.

As Iranian leaders intensify their vitriolic anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, the Jewish state is particularly alarmed by Iran’s nuclear advances. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced on August 17 that “the fake Zionist regime would soon fade away from geography,” and in his latest diatribe – speaking August 30 at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran – he called Israelis “ferocious Zionist wolves who digest the Palestinian people.” Any country, let alone the Jewish state, cannot countenance a nuclear capability in the hands of a regime that has openly expressed genocidal intentions toward it.

This troubling and potentially explosive situation calls for American leadership. It is incumbent upon the United States to lead the international community in condemning Iran’s threats against Israel and cutting off those making such threats from normal diplomatic contact.

The Islamic Republic must know that the United States will act to prevent it from achieving the capability to build a nuclear weapon. Beyond statements to this effect, the enforcement of crippling economic measures is needed to demonstrate American resolve on this issue. Washington can sanction any bank continuing to conduct significant financial transactions with designated Iranian banks, penalize companies working in Iran’s energy sector or providing Iran refined petroleum, and boycott shipping firms utilizing sanctioned ports.

Despite the harsh impact of sanctions already imposed on Iran, the country’s leaders have decided to step up their nuclear efforts. The United States must act with utmost vigor to prevent these efforts from reaching the finish line.

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