Does Iran's nuclear announcement spell defiance or desire to talk?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 270 kms south of Tehran, in 2008.
February 15th, 2012
11:14 PM ET

Does Iran's nuclear announcement spell defiance or desire to talk?

By Elise Labott

Iran's announcement Wednesday about the status of its nuclear program may say more about the defiance of the regime in the face of escalating sanctions than signaling any significant nuclear advances.

Before Wednesday, the question foremost on people's minds was whether the announcement would signal Iran was moving closer toward getting a nuclear weapon, crossing a red line which could force Israel to take a preemptive military strike.

That question got a lot of eye-rolling post-announcement.

"Israel was expecting a major announcement," said Fred Fleitz, managing editor of the intelligence forecasting service Lignet.com and a former nonproliferation official under President George W. Bush. "This is it? Israel is not going to be worried about this. But it does suggest they aren't willing to change and it's certainly not going to encourage anyone to negotiate with them."

But negotiations could be the name of the game. Just as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was placing fuel rods into Tehran's research reactor to great fanfare, the regime was sending a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about resuming nuclear talks with world powers. Coincidence? Unlikely.

Ahmadinejad's show may have merely been staged for public consumption, designed to wrap the regime in a nuclear flag and rally them in the face of crippling sanctions. Iran's nuclear program is still an issue of national pride and one rare point of consensus among Iran's fractured regime, which Ahmadinejad could use to his advantage in next month's parliamentary elections.

Or it could, as some experts believe, be meant to suggest that Iran is willing to negotiate with the West about its nuclear program.

Tough sanctions on the regime have begun to trickle down to the Iranian people, and the suffering is sure to intensify once curbs against Iranian oil exports take effect in June. By responding to an invitation for talks from so-called P5 Plus 1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) on the same day it declares nuclear advances, Tehran may be saying it expects to come to the table from a position of strength.

But that might be wishful thinking on the regime's part. The announcement fell flat in Washington, with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared it "not terribly impressive."

Simply put, the nuclear revelations didn't live up to the hype. Tehran's claims that it had inserted its domestically produced fuel rods in its nuclear reactor and that it had a "new generation" of centrifuges at its Natanz facility capable of more rapidly enriching uranium were neither alarming nor surprising, experts say.

Iran had already announced last month it had produced the fuel rods for its Tehran Research Reactor, which is used to make medical isotopes. The reactor, which was running out of fuel, was the subject of a proposed deal between Tehran and the P5 plus 1 powers in which a Western country would provide fuel for the reactor in exchange for Iran giving up a majority of its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Even with the fuel rods, the reactor is not considered to be a significant proliferation risk because it uses a small amount of fuel, making it too difficult and time-consuming to provide weapons-grade uranium.

It's unclear whether Iran even has the technical expertise to produce quality fuel rods capable of operating the research reactor or - more important - its Bushehr reactor, which is far more powerful and has the capability to produce weapons-grade uranium. Currently, Russia makes the fuel rods for Bushehr.

What's more, U.S. officials and nonproliferation experts alike have challenged Iran's claims about the capacity and sophistication of its centrifuges. The 9,000 centrifuges spinning at its Natanz plant since 2009 have given Iran's nuclear experts all sorts of trouble. They haven't worked well or produced great amounts of uranium, but they've eaten up precious raw materials that Tehran is finding in increasingly short supply due to ever stronger sanctions. It's unclear whether the new advanced ones they rolled out Wednesday are operable yet or even capable of working.

"None of this is a big technical accomplishment," says David Albright, a leading nuclear expert with the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

Tehran, Albright suggests, chose its accomplishments carefully. That Ahmadinejad did not mention the enrichment at the Fordow nuclear enrichment facility, which is built deep into a mountain near the city of Qom and is considered a major flashpoint for Israel, could actually suggest a willingness to be engage in negotiations.

"They could have announced that they plan to install 1,000 advanced centrifuges at Fordow or further increase production of 20 percent enriched uranium," Albright said, referring to Iran's advanced state of enrichment, which has caused international concern. "The fact they didn't is a positive."

But he notes even Iran's modest accomplishments constitute slow progress that the international community can't ignore.

"Iran continues to make progress on its nuclear program" Albright warns. "So the problem of dealing with Iran hasn't been eased by today."

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Filed under: Ahmadinejad • Arms Control • Diplomacy • IAEA • Iran • Middle East • Nuclear
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  49. Random2012

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    February 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  50. joe d

    Israel deserves what it gets..the jews learn absolutaely nothing about why they are hated..they think it's their religion but everyone knows it's becuase they a re a bunch of backstabbing sniveling cowardice a-holes who would throw 300 million amercians under the bus for 6 million dirtbags in izreal..you can't trust them and they never in their pathetic history have thay showed a reason to...they are the worst investment in U.S. history and the main reason we got 9/11..If 90% of our AIPAC congress supports these pigs you know they are a loser/toxic for the average American (with no dual citezenship/loyalty)

    February 17, 2012 at 7:56 am | Reply
    • tello

      this is classic anti-Semitism. I am amazed that CNN publishes this stuff.

      February 17, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
      • joe d

        no it's classic "TRUTH" Yours and your kind days of having one way are over...ps the truth hurts

        February 17, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Foolish Mortal

      This idiot Ahmadinejad war lord from Iran always talking garbage and I will like to see him try because the outcome will be the opposite of his plan, his country will be disappearing. I am not a Jew or a Muslim but the Lord doesn’t think so. He failed to read the true and the real Bible this is the reason why he doesn’t know what is about to come.

      Israel is hated by every country in the world because the Lord God of Heaven chooses them. Their territory belongs to them whether the international community wants to believe it or not. It will be better if they leave the Jews alone.

      February 17, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
      • joe d

        Lord God of Heaven chooses them

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAh choose this moron...

        February 17, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Gman

      Well I wasn't sure where to put this so I just replied on Joe D's post it's not really a reply to his post. Now the whole argument that Iron wouldn't use a nuke on Israel is most likely true. They wouldn't make a direct attack on the US or any of it's allies. What they would do is what they always done, supply a bomb to a terrorist group so that they could smuggle it into the US or Israel (less likely) and have it detonated to kill millions. By doing this they wouldn't have to worry about a nuclear retaliation from the US because they could have plausible deniability. The whole world would be pissed but because of an indirect attack the US wouldn't be able to attack with nuclear weapons and would have a hard time proving where the weapon came from or who set it off. That is the main reason they should never be allowed to becone a nuclear power IMO.

      February 17, 2012 at 9:07 am | Reply
      • joe d

        I think you should A) go hide under your bed...B) nuke the world...paranoia, the msm and and our AIPIAC owned congress/politicians have a way of doing that to you..We have enemies because of the turd called israel..our forfather's warned us of entangling alliances..you reap what you sew..time to cut the leaches loose, they have done enough damage to the U.S. More then all muslim terrorists combined..and for any Un-American pig to put izreal on the same plane or playin field as the U.S. or even suggegt that every last American die for such a waste it just freakin utterly disgusting..and please leave the US you are no American..like I said the turd called izreal has no problem watching every last TRUE American die for them..disgusting...

        Izreal/AIPAC=9/11

        February 17, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  51. joe d

    Never ever trust the litle lying jews that cry wolf..

    AIPAC/AIPAC owned congress/Bush/Cheney/Israel=9/11

    February 17, 2012 at 7:44 am | Reply
  52. ymr

    I am muslim and I still think Iran is a thousand times worse than Israel. I don't know why people think muslims like Iran.

    February 17, 2012 at 7:29 am | Reply
  53. Jt_flyer

    Let's have people who've actually met Iranian handle the problem. Understand the unique thought process of a Persian would be very beneficial at a time like this.

    February 17, 2012 at 7:27 am | Reply
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