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Iranians Hand Over Basic Nuclear Warhead Designs

Iran turned over a document detailing how to cast uranium into hemispheric forms and combine them to make the spherical core of a nuclear warhead. The IAEA reported in November 2005 that such a document was in Iranian possession. While this was transpiring, Ali Larijani told the press that if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, Iran will have to “stop [start] all nuclear work that has been voluntarily suspended and stop implementation of the Additional Protocol.” Larijani presented this as an unfortunate consequence that Iran is powerless to control, as if to say, “What’s a country to do? After all, we have to follow the law.” Perhaps this was one of the minor aims of the law passed by the Iranian mejlis.

The turnover of the document is of little effective consequence, as the Iranians have surely duplicated it and far surpassed its teachings in the 19 years the document has been in its possession. Many rightly challenge this late gesture from Iran, warning that if Iran were sincere in their dealings and intentions, this document, which they claim they never asked for or wanted, would have been handed over no less than three months ago if not three years ago, when the IAEA pressure was beginning to be brought to bear. Iran has reported that the document was not asked for in 1987, when the AQ Kahn network provideded it, suggesting that Kahn provided it in the hopes that it would inspire more orders from them. It should also be noted that the nuclear hemisphere design data surely is very basic, covering only one and a half pages. But again, the specific scientific content is not the issue. It is the timing of the hand over that is the better indicator. What have the Iranians sacrificed with this gesture?

Regardless of the value of the gesture, its cause is the long-awaited determination to finally refer Iran to the UN Security Council, transferring the case file from the IAEA bureaucracy, which has had only limited access to Iranian sites and is equiped with no enforcement mechanisms aside from referal. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, China, Russia and France) unanimously agreed to begin the process. While much attention has been paid to whether or not the IAEA internal vote at the meeting of the Board of Governors February 1-2 would net enough votes for referral, the ‘Big Five’ essentially quashed and nullified the debate from above by now insisting that the situation be dealt with by the Security Council. However, the Council watered down the effects of the decision by declaring that the Security Council will not meet on the matter for over a month. As the Financial Times’ Daniel Dombey correctly notes, ”Over the next five weeks that agreement, reached by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, could be tested to extinction.” Russia and China will not be eager to impose any meaningful sanctions on Iran, a major supplier of Chinese energy and a major source of contract cash (military and nuclear construction) for Russia. The true resolve of the Security Council remains to be seen, though the decision to take on the matter is a very positive step.

The United States has been working the diplomatic channels gaining support of temporary members of the Security Council as well, to bolster the West’s position against the Iranian Nuclear Program when the full council meets. To that end, a previously wavering India says now that they will likely vote for referral when the IAEA Board meets.

Oil prices actually dropped some with the day’s news, as it included Iran saying that it would not halt oil exports/a> if referred to the United Nations Security Council. OPEC also announced that it would be holding production output at current levels.

A referral to the UNSC was the first concrete step towards removing or minimizing the Iranian nuclear threat. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was confident of Russia and China’s support in getting there, but is less confident what real actions they will be willing to take once the Iran crisis is before the Council. The next (diplomatic) step is to persuade them that it is in their interests to approve meaningful and effective sanctions against Iran. At the end of the day, it simply may be too late for sanctions alone to stop the Iranian program, and all this concern over which sanctions will or will not meet Sino-Russian opposition may be for nought.

All things considered with all that has transpired, concerned Iran observers should not allow the best and most productive news of the day to escape them: The frustratingly inept IAEA head, Mohammed ElBaredei, has been effectively removed from the equation with the coming transfer to the Security Council.