Iran's nuclear disclosures: why they matter
A secret nuclear site. ‘Project 110.’ Offers to ship fuel abroad. Part of Iran’s quest to be regional power?
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Some outside experts, moreover, note that the parts of the report made public so far don't have many dates associated with Iran's alleged activities. That means it is possible that Iran had a Project 110 at one time, but has since scrapped it, as US intelligence continues to insist.Skip to next paragraph
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As to the pace of Iran's progress, it is conceivable that Tehran could build its own nuclear device as early as this year, according to Mr. Cordesman of CSIS.
But it is more likely that the time frame for deployment of actual weapons, on top of missiles, would be 2011 to 2015, he writes in his new book.
"Iran seems to be developing all of the capabilities necessary to deploy a significant number of nuclear weapons no later than 2020 and to mount them on missile systems capable of striking at targets throughout the region and beyond," Cordesman writes.
Hope for real nuclear negotiations: slim, but present
So, that's it then? It's inevitable that Iran is going to join the nuclear club?
That's not necessarily true, say other experts. There are some hopeful signs that Iranian leaders remain open to real nuclear negotiations.
For instance, on Oct. 1 Iran agreed in principle to send most of its openly declared LEU out of the country, probably to Russia. There, it would be turned into fuel for a small Iranian reactor that produces medical isotopes.
If this shipment comes to pass – and that is a big "if," considering Iran's past behavior – it would be a positive step. No longer would Tehran have at its disposal a pile of material it could easily enrich into bomb fuel.
The key is the intentions of Iran's leaders. Those are unknown to the US and its partners in negotiations.
If Iran is determined to get a nuclear bomb – and if a consensus exists in Iran's government behind that objective – there may be no stopping it. No negotiations or agreement with the US and other nations would help, according to Matthew Bunn, a principal investigator at the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
"They would either reject or violate measures that would seriously constrain their program," said Dr. Bunn during a recent presentation on how to deal with Iran's program.
However, if views differ within Iran's hierarchy about how close to get to nuclear weapons capability, then a negotiated deal could have an effect on the program's future.
By proffering incentives for Iran to change its behavior, the West could strengthen the hand of any Iranians in favor of a less confrontational approach, said Bunn.
But time and flexibility are needed to strike such a bargain. After decades of intense hostility, neither the US nor Iran trusts the other.
"Ultimately, to get Iran to address [the concerns of the US and its allies], the [US and its allies] must address Iran's concerns," said Bunn. "A deal not seen as serving Iran's interests, as well as ours, will be rejected or will fail."