Sunday, March 08, 2015

What Iran Won’t Say About the Bomb

MARCH 7, 2015

OVER the course of a dozen years, ever since atomic sleuths from the United Nations began scrutinizing Iran’s nuclear program, hundreds of inspections have uncovered a hidden world of labs and sprawling factories, some ringed by barbed wire and antiaircraft guns, others camouflaged or buried deep underground. Yet despite that progress, Iran has so far managed to evade a central question — whether it knows how to build an atom bomb.

With negotiators from six world powers facing a deadline later this month to cut a basic agreement with Iran on the fate of its nuclear program, much of the public discussion has focused on curtailing Iran’s uranium plants and plutonium complex, its pathways to atomic fuel. In short, the buzz centers on brawn, not brains. But quietly, the United States and its allies are also discussing whether a final deal should compel Tehran to reveal the depth of its atomic knowledge.

That inner debate, as one European official in the midst of the negotiations put it, turns on “whether to force Iran to explain its past” — especially before 2003, when American intelligence officials believe Iran operated a full-scale equivalent of the Manhattan Project — “or whether to focus on the future.”

American officials are vague when pressed on how fully Iran will have to answer questions it has avoided for years from United Nations inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna. To date, Iran has dodged all but one of the agency’s dozen sharp questions on bomb design.

“Iran’s most serious verification shortcoming,” Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector, now at Harvard, said recently, “remains its unwillingness to address concerns about the past and possibly ongoing military dimensions of its nuclear program.”

(More here.)


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