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Fuelling controversy

Iran’s claim that it has acquired the capability to produce nuclear fuel ‘on an industrial scale’ will escalate Tehran’s confrontation with the West over the nuclear issue.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2007 00:53 IST

Iran’s claim that it has acquired the capability to produce nuclear fuel ‘on an industrial scale’ will escalate Tehran’s confrontation with the West over the nuclear issue. On Iran’s nuclear technology day last Monday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that his country has started operating 3,000 centrifuges — the machines that spin uranium gas for enriching it to levels needed for fuel — at its Natanz plant. If true, this is more than ten times the number of centrifuges that Iran was believed to have had a year ago. The claim then was that it enriched only up to 3 per cent, a level adequate for nuclear reactor fuel, but way below that needed to make a nuclear warhead. Which is why the IAEA can be excused for taking Tehran’s claim with a barrel of rock salt.

But that doesn’t detract from the disturbing fact that this posturing also points to Tehran’s confidence that it can exploit loopholes in the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA is not in a position to play a role in resolving the imbroglio, considering the lack of adequate inspection tools at its disposal to detect undeclared parallel uranium enrichment plants in Iran. Tehran is unlikely to succumb to economic or military pressure — as UN sanctions seek to impose — and give up its sensitive fuel cycle facilities. With the credibility of the US at an all time low, it cannot escalate pressure on Tehran beyond a point.

With so few options on the table, the US must start talking to Tehran to evolve a strategy to bring Iran into the world community, and reduce the risk of Iran building atomic arms. The alternative is for the world to be prepared to hail the next nuclear weapons power.