Diplomats Detail ‘Worst-Case Scenario’ for Iran

18 Month Timetable is Misleading, at Best

by Jason Ditz, October 27, 2009

With the nation expected to announce its decision on a UN draft deal in the next few days, the rhetoric for action against Iran continues to fly fast and furious, with Western diplomats cautioning that Iran would need “18 months” to produce a nuclear bomb.

As is so often the case with such comments, the reality behind them shows what is being called a “worst case scenario” is misleading, indeed extremely so.

The claim is based on the assumption that Iran could enrich enough weapons grade uranium in 6 months and could figure out how to turn it into a weapon in another 12 months.

Both assumptions are likely extremely optimistic (or pessimistic depending on ones view). Iran has only been enriching uranium to 3.5% and its enrichment capacity is so limited that it is seeking to trade that for 19.75% enriched uranium, which is still far, far short of weapons-grade. If Iran was capable of enriching virtually its entire stockpile to weapons-grade levels in 6 months for a bomb, it would have the capacity to produce all that 19.75% uranium itself in short order.

The more important reality, however, is that this 18 month clock, even if it was accurate, hasn’t started ticking yet. Iran’s enrichment program is under constant IAEA surveillance, and Iran couldn’t even begin this mad dash for a single bomb without expelling the IAEA, which would give a clear indication of its intentions.

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