Iran’s politicians writing checks its technicians can’t cash

What should we make of Iran’s announcement that the country’s production of nuclear fuel has reached “industrial scale”? ATTA KENARE/AFP Arms control analyst Jeffrey Lewis reacted thusly to the news on his blog: “Whatever.” As Lewis goes on to explain in wonkish detail, there are good reasons to be skeptical of Iran’s enrichment prowess. After ...

602719_070409_ahmadinejad_05.jpg
602719_070409_ahmadinejad_05.jpg

What should we make of Iran's announcement that the country's production of nuclear fuel has reached "industrial scale"?

ATTA KENARE/AFP

Arms control analyst Jeffrey Lewis reacted thusly to the news on his blog: "Whatever."

What should we make of Iran’s announcement that the country’s production of nuclear fuel has reached “industrial scale”?

ATTA KENARE/AFP

Arms control analyst Jeffrey Lewis reacted thusly to the news on his blog: “Whatever.”

As Lewis goes on to explain in wonkish detail, there are good reasons to be skeptical of Iran’s enrichment prowess. After all, getting enough material to build a bomb is extremely difficult. (Lewis coauthored the cover story on how a pickup team of terrorists could build a crude nuclear bomb for FP‘s November/December 2006 issue.)

So why make these grandiose claims, if they’re so easy to debunk? Most likely, as nuke expert David Albright explains to the New York Times, “Ahmadinejad is trying to demonstrate facts on the ground and negotiate from a stronger position.” After all, it worked for North Korea.

It will be interesting to see how the Bush administration reacts to Iran’s announcement. As recently as March 27, the State Department’s Nicholas Burns was essentially mocking the Iranians‘ lack of technical acumen:

I think the Iranians have had a considerable degree of difficulty in proceeding with their enrichment experimentation,” he says. “They have made these fantastic claims . . . and yet according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, they have not been able to manage quite as well as they thought they would.”

That, however, was before Iran played catch-and-release with 15 British sailors and marines, putting the U.S. military on edge. My guess? The Bush administration will keep plowing ahead on the diplomatic track at the United Nations and ratcheting up the financial pressure, while quietly signaling that it is ready to go the military route if Iran doesn’t back down.

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