Iran’s Centrifuge Progress Underscores Need for U.S. to Drop Preconditions

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Iran Nuclear Watch

News reports that Iran is progressing in efforts to make more efficient and reliable centrifuges underscore the need for the U.S. to drop preconditions and begin negotiating with Iran immediately. European diplomats and American officials disclosed this week that Iran is testing new centrifuges known as IR-2s. The existence of the IR-2s were revealed in January when International Atomic Energy Agency officials were allowed to visit a complex for the machine’s development.

The IR-2s are a modified version of the P-2 centrifuge (P meaning Pakistani in origin). According to a new report by David Albright and Jaqueline Shire at the Institute for Science and International Security, a tubelike rotor made of carbon fibers rather than maraging steel is at the core of the new centrifuge design, demonstrating considerable technical creativity.

IR-2s are meant to replace the less reliable P-1 centrifuges, of which Iran currently is operating about 3,000 at 10 percent capacity at the Natanz nuclear facility. According to Albright and Shire, the IR-2 uranium enrichment throughput is about 2.5 times greater than the P-1 centrifuge, which means that if configured properly, it would take approximately 1,200 IR-2 centrifuges versus 3,000 P-1 centrifuges to produce a similar quantity of enriched uranium.

The U.S. is using the opportunity to make the case for a third round of United Nations sanctions against Iran ahead of a new report to be delivered later this month by IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei on progress to resolve outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear program. The new draft resolution already agreed to by the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and U.S.) is mostly an incremental increase in sanctions, including a provision that would require countries to deny entry to any person involved in Iran’s nuclear programs, it also goes beyond previous resolutions to include a ban on all trade in civilian nuclear equipment or technology that could also be used to create nuclear weapons. The U.S. also wants UN member states to be asked to inspect cargo going to and from Iran if there is reason to believe that contraband is aboard – a measure that raises the danger of further incidents at sea between U.S. and Iranian warships in the already tense Persian Gulf.

Iran is not relenting to existing UN sanctions and is unlikely to relent under a new round of sanctions. Progress on a new generation of centrifuges highlights the need for the U.S. to drop preconditions and engage in direct, unconditional, bilateral talks with Iran to resolve outstanding issues. Such a move would provide incentive for Iran to implement the Additional Protocol, which was reaffirmed by the IAEA delegation in January, so that Iran’s nuclear program will become more transparent and accountable to inspectors and the international community.

As side note related to the Additional Protocol, President George W. Bush took a surprising step on February 4 when he issued an executive order directing U.S. agencies to develop regulations to administer the Additional Protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is still unclear when the President will submit formal notification, but once finalized the Additional Protocol would grant IAEA officials access to civilian nuclear facilities, though not access to nuclear weapons facilities. The move may have been prompted to partially allay concerns about the hypocrisy of U.S. nonproliferation policy which urges Iran and other countries to adopt far more intrusive versions of the Additional Protocol. The move may also be meant to bolster support for U.S. efforts to expand civilian nuclear technology under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and to bolster efforts to carve an exception that would allow the U.S. to cooperate with India, a non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, on nuclear technology.

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