Iran, as it periodically and deliberately seems to do, has again rattled the world with an announcement about its nuclear program. The Iranians say they will begin enriching their uranium stockpile to the 20 percent level, the threshold for what is considered the highly enriched level and another step closer to being able to produce a bomb.
Tehran said that it had already informed the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The rules require 60 days’ advance notice, but Iranian officials said the enrichment program would begin this week, suggesting some haste to the decision.
Analysts say enriching Iran’s uranium supply to the 20 percent level would take about a year and then another six months to enrich it to the weapons-grade level of 90 percent. But that timetable would be affected by any technical problems.
Iran says it needs the enriched uranium for medical isotopes and fuel rods for its research reactor. But that’s belied by Tehran’s continually stalling on an international agreement that would have met those goals more cheaply and with greater technological certainty. Under that arrangement reached last fall and blessed by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France, Iran would have shipped its uranium to Russia for enriching and conversion into fuel rods.
But, as the Associated Press noted, Iran has defied five U.N. resolutions and three sets of sanctions seeking to limit its nuclear ambitions, and it seems undaunted by threats of further sanctions.
Iran’s many critics say that Iran is only stalling to buy time for development of a nuclear-weapon capability. It is a curious strategic calculus. Iran would only be threatened if it became a threat. And as of now the greatest threat to the Iranian regime is its own people, against whom nuclear weapons would be useless.