Four International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were due in Tehran Sunday, Oct. 25 for their prearranged visit to the newly-discovered uranium enrichment facility near Qom. Aside from that inspection, not much else is left of the Obama administration’s pursuit of engagement on Iran’s nuclear program. Saturday, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani threw out IAEA Director Mohamad ElBaradei’s overseas enrichment plan the day after it was hailed by the big powers.
Soon after Larijani’s rejection, President Obama put in hurried calls to the Russian and French presidents on the new crisis.
DEBKAfile’s military sources point out that even the UN watchdog visits may lead nowhere, depending on how much access they are allowed to the facilities tunneled deep in a mountain near Qom and how much incriminating evidence was removed in the two weeks since Tehran approved the visit. Some sources in Washington take the existence of this hidden plant as evidence that Iran has got several more secret facilities running – and not just for enrichment but possibly even for covertly constructing nuclear bombs and warheads. Reporting from US sources on Iran’s nuclear program tends to be conflicting, fashioned to fit the policy of the moment. For instance, the Qom tunnel hiding place which the US president “first revealed” in Pittsburgh on Sept. 26 was in fact known to intelligence services, including the CIA, as far back as 2004.
In December 2005, the National Council of Resistance of Iran called a news conference to expose details of “an installation under construction in deep tunnels near Qom.”
Yet in 2007, a US National Intelligence Estimate stated that Iran had halted its military nuclear program in 2003! DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Washington sources believe that story was fabricated at the time by US undercover agencies to hold George W. Bush and Israel back from a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
A similar mechanism was at work Friday, Oct. 23. After Moscow, Paris and Washington approved the ElBaradei plan proposing that Iran send its partially enriched uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment – there was a thunderous silence from Tehran. Despite initial negative signals, sources in the Washington and Vienna quoted Iranian officials as favoring the plan but seeking only a few days until the middle of next week for its final answer.
It was Larijani’s task to dispel this piece of wishful thinking. He said the West insists on pursuing “chicanery” or “imposing some of its demands” on Iran. “They say we will provide you with 20 pc enriched nuclear fuel when you hand over to us your enriched material, whereas we see no relation between these two issues.”
His deputy Alaeddin Boroujerdi repeated an earlier Iranian state television report asserting that Tehran wanted to buy enriched uranium not send it overseas.
The IAEA inspectors’ visit to Qom goes well, it may establish four key facts:
1. Iran’s nuclear program is military – not just peaceful as Teheran insists;
2. The hidden plant, built to house 3,000 fast centrifuges of the new IR-4 mark, is designed to produce 90 pc (weapons-grade) enriched uranium in an amount sufficient for two to three bombs a year.
3. The US 2007 NSI was made of whole cloth.
4. The most intriguing question which the nuclear watchdog inspectors need to go after now is the provenance of the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) destined for further enrichment at Qom. The Natanz enrichment facility is too closely monitored by the IAEA to be able to able to ship this material out undetected. This means that one or more secret enrichment facilities, still unknown to Western intelligence, are turning out enriched uranium somewhere in Iran in the service of its covert weapons program and remain to be discovered.
Diplomatic engagement with Tehran has not even begun to plumb the depths of Iran’s deceptions.