A billet of highly enriched uranium //
    A billet of highly enriched uranium //

    The International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday delivered a damning ultimatum to Iran: cease construction of the discovered enrichment facility near Qum, or else.

    ­­­This is a historic statement. The IAEA has never submitted an unequivocal demand as this to Tehran over its nuclear ambitions. However, the rebuke is undoubtedly compelling because both Russia and China have endorsed the decision.

    The problem is that the “or else” part hasn’t been agreed upon. The United States must still submit a sanctions proposal to the United Nations Security Council if diplomatic progress hasn’t been made by the end of the year.

    On Friday, Sept. 25, the U.S. and Europe revealed intelligence regarding the construction of the clandestine uranium enrichment facility. Its location, deeply entrenched in a mountain far inside a Revolutionary Guard base and 20 miles near the religious center of Qum, suggests Iran wanted its existence to remain a secret.

    Both American and European intelligence officials are said to have access to the facility, fueling speculation that spies have penetrated the plant.

    Iran argues that the facility was never meant to be a secret. American intelligence officials state that Iran, after learning that the plant had been discovered, submitted a concise letter to the IAEA notifying them about the construction of a second facility.

    Convenience seems to be Iran’s closest ally in the entire debacle. After years of inspections and international unrest about their one single enrichment facility, Iran decides to generously disclose that construction on a second enrichment plant is already halfway complete.

    Of course the uranium enrichment facility was going to be disclosed! The project just needed a few years to get around to that “Notify the Inspectors” part of the process. Y’know, the part that will get you in trouble because you’d be considered in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?

    Iran urges that the second enrichment plant will be used for peaceful purposes, but the IAEA and western intelligence agencies have concluded otherwise.

    An anonymous intelligence official informed the New York Times that “multiple independent sources” confirmed the plant’s main purpose was for nuclear capabilities.

    Iran was caught – and it’s running out of options. Their diplomatic capital is depleting, especially with China and Russia’s endorsement of the IAEA announcement.

    This is the second time Russia has worried over Iran’s inability to negotiate with the west. Earlier this month, President Medvedev expressed concerns over Iran’s procrastination in responding to a UN-brokered offer for Iran to send uranium to Russia for peaceful enrichment. Iran would then be eligible to receive the nuclear energy it says it originally wanted for civilian purposes.

    Iran evidently doesn’t respond well to threats either. Israel has yet to retract its threat (or bluff?) of military action if progress on the issue hasn’t been made by 2010. If Israel stays true to its word, our troops in Afghanistan will be put at risk. Let’s hope Tehran picks its fights more carefully, and chooses to negotiate here.