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Buying the Carpet You Don’t Want | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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One of Iran’s best-loved comedians, Arham Sadr, had a sketch about an encounter in an Isfahan bazaar.

A Western tourist enters a shop to buy a carpet his wife has seen in the window and likes.

The carpet merchant, however, does not want the tourist to buy that rug. He offers a range of other carpets, praising each while bad-mouthing the coveted one.

The tourist ends up buying a carpet that he did not want and does not like. While sipping tea at the conclusion of the transaction, his only thought is how to explain to his wife why he bought this rug rather than the one they really wanted.

Earlier this month, the sketch was repeated during talks between the Islamic Republic and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, (the so-called 5+1 group).

Like Sadr’s tourist, the 5+1 had come with a precise carpet in mind. The carpet they

wanted was woven of five unanimously approved Security Council resolutions, including three under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, demanding that Iran end all uranium enrichment.

After days of haggling, however, the 5+1 ended up agreeing to buy a different carpet. In a speech Thursday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted that he was prepared to let the 5+1 have the carpet they do not want, provided they offer a set of further unspecified concessions.

The new carpet on offer is woven of a Russian idea, first aired in 2004, to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium but ship 75 per cent of it abroad for further enrichment for subsequent use in a 5-megawatt reactor located in Tehran.

The deal is even shadier than the one the tourist got in Sadr’s sketch.

To start with, the facility in question is scheduled for de-commissioning in 2010.

Located in Amirabad, now a densely populated neighborhood of Tehran, it was built by the US in the 1950s in what was then a village situated miles from the city center. Like most other nuclear reactors, the lifespan of the facility was estimated at 38 years.

Since the reactor started full operation in 1967, it has already completed its lifecycle.

Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, the former head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, announced Amirabad’s closure in 2002, but agreed to keep it going until its replacement, a 40-megawatt reactor in Arak, west of Tehran, is completed.

(Iran lacks the know-how for mothballing the de-commissioned reactor whose remains, if not properly sealed, could pose a threat to public health for centuries.)

The fun part is that Iran has enough fuel for Amirabad until 2010, when the reactor is to be mothballed.

Between 1967 and 1980, the United States supplied enriched uranium for Amirabad. (In those good old days, the US had no qualms about giving Iran enriched uranium up to 90 per cent, the kind that could be used for building a nuclear weapon).

After 1980, Iran tried to secure enriched uranium from France where the Shah had invested a billion dollars in building the largest enrichment plant in Europe. The French, however, refused to give the new Iranian regime anything and, instead, offered to buy Iran’s share.

Iran then did a deal with Argentina that provided the uranium needed until 1993 when a terror attack in Buenos Aires, allegedly carried out by Hezbollah, wrecked the relationship.

Since then Iran has been buying enriched uranium on the black market without the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) knowing what was going on.

Iran admits it has 1.5 tons of uranium enriched to four per cent. That amount, if enriched up to 95 per cent, could yield 25 kilograms of the ingredient needed for one atomic bomb.

Under the proposed deal, low-enriched uranium from Iran would be enriched up to 19.7 per cent by Russia then sent to France to be fitted into fuel rods before being exported back to Iran. However, Iran does not need any fuel for a reactor that is going to be closed down next year.

Does Iran need it for its reactor at Arak?

Again, the answer is no. Arak is a plutonium plant and does not need enriched uranium.

At the start of this year, Iran had 800 centrifuges enriching uranium. It now has at least 8000 of which half are in operation. This means that Iran already has the capacity to enrich enough uranium for making one Hiroshima size bomb every year.

The process could be speeded up by operating the “new advanced” centrifuges that Iran says it already has.

With 30,000 to 40,000 centrifuges Iran could produce enough material for one bomb within weeks.

In a commentary published on 23 October, the official news agency IRNA boasted: “If Iran wants to build nuclear weapons, it has no problem with fissile material.” To emphasize the point, IRNA declared that Iran had reached “the threshold or breakout” stage, which means it has the wherewithal to become a nuclear power.

The carpet that the 5+1 want to buy is woven of whole cloth.

Even if Iran agrees to the deal, something not yet certain in view of Tehran’s tradition of cheat-and-retreat, the real question, the original carpet, will remain intact: should Iran comply with Security Council resolutions or not?

The dispute is over forcing Iran to shut down its uranium enrichment program altogether, not about supplying Iran with a higher grade of enriched uranium.

Even if the deal goes through, Iran will have part of its uranium stocks enriched up to 20 per cent by Russia, thus speeding up the process of enrichment up to 90 per cent.

In the meantime, Iran would secure implicit approval for its enrichment program.

Even if Tehran does not cheat, such a deal would only mean a slower pace for building the stocks needed for enrichment up to weapons’ grade material. In other words, the 5+1 are giving Iran a license to build the bomb, albeit at a slightly lower pace.

The 5+1 resemble do-gooders who try to wean an alcoholic off the booze by replacing his weak drink with a stronger brew.

All that the 5+1 now need to do is to find a good explanation for why they are buying a carpet they did not want instead of the one for which they went to the bazaar.


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