A “Smoking Gun” on Iran’s Nuclear Program? (Updated)

Just in time for the Iranians’ latest dilatory reaction to the IAEA’s draft response to its nuclear program, the Times of London has reported that it has obtained documents that prove rather clearly that Iran has continued its nuclear weapons development program:

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.

The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.

An Asian intelligence source last week confirmed to The Times that his country also believed that weapons work was being carried out as recently as 2007 — specifically, work on a neutron initiator.

The technical document describes the use of a neutron source, uranium deuteride, which independent experts confirm has no possible civilian or military use other than in a nuclear weapon. Uranium deuteride is the material used in Pakistan’s bomb, from where Iran obtained its blueprint.

This would contradict the finding of the now notorious 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that found that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons development program in 2003, a finding questioned by other Western intelligence services.

Assuming the report is true while it dispels some of the ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear program, it doesn’t make Iran more likely to respond to the overtures of the West or others trying to induce them to end their nuclear program, I doubt that it will make sanctions more likely to be imposed, and it doesn’t render a military strike against Iran more effective in forcing the Iranians to end their nuclear weapons development. Primarily, it means that we’ll know what’s happening while it’s happening.

UPDATE

Sky News has confirmed that the document obtained by The Times is genuine:

Sky News foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said: “Sources confirm that the document is genuine. However, the Government and the US will be reluctant to wave it about just yet.

“There’s three weeks to go until President Obama’s end-of-the-year deadline for his policy of engagement with Iran.

“The big push for sanctions will not begin until January. No-one wants to pre-empt that.”

UPDATE 2

The Times concludes its editorial on the Iranian nuclear weapons development program with a quotation from Winston Churchill:

Anticipating the end of America’s brief post-war nuclear monopoly, Churchill also declared: “We ought not to go jogging along improvident, incompetent, waiting for something to turn up, by which I mean waiting for something bad for us to turn up.” Sixty years later, that is precisely what Western diplomacy is doing.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

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  3. Brett says:

    I thought it was pretty obvious they were continuing their nuclear weapons program, considering how many centrifuges they had, as well as the degree to which they were enriching uranium (as in, far beyond the fuel you need for nuclear power).

  4. It’s not news exactly but it is useful to have something this blatant to wave under the noses of Russian and Chinese diplomats. It probably helps at the margins.

    The question I have is whether any level of sanctions, even with the whole developed world on board would be effective. I doubt it. I think we either deal with this militarily or let the Iranians go forward. My guess is we let it happen. I think that’s probably the best answer, assuming that we make clear that a Unilateral Assured Destruction policy is in place.

    This policy puts us in the position of being the nuclear guarantor not just of Israel but of Saudi as well. Which is interesting. Pity we don’t have rational governments on either the Palestinian or Israeli sides, this might be an opportunity.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s largely the way I see things, too, Michael. Additionally, a year or so ago I was extremely skeptical that, however strident the rhetoric, the Israelis would actually mount an attack on the Iranians. Much of what I heard at the time was boilerplate for internal political consumption (just as what the Iranians were saying was).

    However, now I’m not so sure. The present Israeli government strikes me as sufficiently looney that anything is possible. It might be just strategic insanity. That’s an idea that goes back quite a few years.

  6. Steve Hynd says:

    Hi Dave,

    If the Murdoch-owned Sky News confirms that the Murdoch-owned Times’ doucument is genuine via its “sources”, that might not mean much more than phoning their co-workers at the Times.

    Nor does the document, even if genuine, prove that Iran wants to build an actual weapon. It’s still consistent with El Baradei’s assertions that Iran wishes a Japan-style “virtual deterrent”. Although I admit that non-nuclear weapon signatories to the NPT aren’t supposed to be doing weapons studies. It’s part of what they signed up to.

    Regards, Steve

  7. Drew says:

    I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out what the big deal is. Mao said all kinds of crazy shit before China acquired nukes, yet the Chinese have yet to use them 50 years later. I wonder why. More to the point, attempting to force a nation into not becoming a nuclear power is the surest way to guarantee the opposite. Short of conquest and occupation, there is no way to ensure that Iran will not at some point develop a nuclear weapon. But, nuclear powers cannot blackmail each other, and Iran will not be able to blackmail the U.S., Russia, Israel, Turkey, or any other nuclear power, and it’s highly doubtful that they would even try. On the other hand, nuclear powers can be successfully contained through conventional means, as our experience through the Cold War demonstrated. Everyone needs to relax and keep a cool head about this, rather than allow our foreign policy to be dictated by Tel Aviv.