After decades of largely clandestine efforts, Iran is expected to declare in coming days that it has made a huge leap toward industrial-scale production of enriched uranium — a defiant act that the country’s leaders will herald as a major technical stride and its neighbors will denounce as a looming threat. But for now, many nuclear experts say, the frenetic activity at the desert enrichment plant in Natanz may be mostly about political showmanship. The many setbacks and outright failures of Tehran’s experimental program suggest that its bluster may outstrip its technical expertise. And the problems help explain American intelligence estimates that Iran is at least four years away from producing a nuclear weapon.
What the Iranians are not talking about, experts with access to the atomic agency’s information say, is that their experimental effort to make centrifuges work has struggled to achieve even limited success and appears to have been put on the back burner so the country’s leaders can declare that they are moving to the next stage.
To enrich uranium on an industrial scale, the machines must spin at very high speeds for months on end. But the latest report of the atomic agency, issued in November, said the primitive machines of the Iran’s pilot plant ran only intermittently, to enrich small amounts of uranium. And the Iranians succeeded in setting up just two of the planned six groupings of 164 centrifuges at the pilot plant. “It looks political unless they’ve made progress that we don’t know about,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a weapons analysis group in London.
Iran’s nuclear boasts come in the midst of an increasingly rancorous chess game between Tehran’s mullahs and the Bush administration over the aims of Iran’s nuclear programs, its role in Iraq and its ambitions to become the dominant power in the Middle East. The speculation about imminent conflict has grown so strong that President Bush’s new secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, who is intimately familiar with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions from his days as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, declared on Friday, “We are not planning for a war with Iran.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has become the face of Iranian defiance, is under growing pressure at home because of unemployment and the squeeze of economic sanctions — and President Bush’s advisers have said he may view a nuclear standoff with the United States as a way to help his standing. That, combined with evidence of problems at the pilot plant, suggest that the industrial push may be aimed as much at enriching Iran’s political leverage as enriching uranium. The Iranians insist their effort is solely to fuel nuclear reactors, a statement that in the recent words of R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, “no country that has seriously looked at the evidence believes.”
Nicht nur, daß Ahmadinedschad innnenpolitisch unter Druck steht, auch sein offensichtliches Streben, aus dem Iran eine atomar bewaffnete Großmacht zu machen, scheint technologisch gesehen auf tönernen Füßen zu stehen. Daher bestehen seine Drohungen, insbesondere gegenüber Israel, auch viel aus Kraftmeierei und Großmannssucht, also aus heißer Luft.