- From The Tower: Obama’s Former Deputy CIA Director: Emerging Iran Deal Leaves Enough Centrifuges for Nuke
Writers and analysts have expressed concern about the potential nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1, including some usually aligned with the Obama administration. Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars wrote in January, “[I]f the administration is too eager for an agreement, it will find itself…with an emboldened Iran…untransformed, unrepentant, and in a stronger … position to challenge U.S. interests in a turbulent Middle East.” Former Special Advisor to the Obama administration Dennis Ross recommended a new strategy that will “focus on isolating Iran in its neighborhood and undermining its clients” to “raise the price to Tehran of its objectionable policies.”
Armin Rosen writes that one part of the agreement that has yet to emerge is whether or not it will address Iran’s worldwide support for terrorism. Eli Lake and Josh Rogin have reported that, according to administration officials, any deal will be “just an arms control agreement” that should be judged “on the technical aspects only, not on whether the deal will spur Iranian reform.” Analyst Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies maintains that the agreement with Iran is part of a broader “de facto condominium between the US and Iran.” He quotes Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Advisor of Israel, who wrote last week that several people had told him during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. that officials in the State Department believed that a nuclear agreement with Iran would lead to regional stability and a “special relationship with Iran.” Lee Smith takes to the pages of The Weekly Standard to illustrate his view that President Obama’s policy in the Middle East is essentially an “antisurge”: rather than bolstering moderate Sunnis to combat ISIS, the U.S. coordinates with extremist Shiites to accomplish that goal, which has the potential to further alienate Sunni Arabs.
In the same publication, Michael Makovsky, CEO of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA), contends that the “looming deal with Iran rivals Munich.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer writes that the agreement gives Iran a “flourishing” path to a nuclear weapon and “means the end of nonproliferation.” David Brooks asserts in The New York Times that the administration has “made a series of stunning sacrifices…to get [a nuclear agreement].” By projecting Western pragmatism onto the Iranian regime, the administration, Brooks continues, is placing a “giant bet…on one interpretation.”
Amid reports that the emerging nuclear deal between the P5+1 nations and Iran would reportedly allow Iran to keep 6,500 centrifuges operating, a former CIA deputy director who served under President Obama has stated that this number is sufficient for Iran to build a nuclear weapons program.
Michael Morell, now an analyst for CBS news, made those comments on the Charlie Rose show last week. Morell's statement was analyzed by the fact-checking website Politifact on Wednesday.
One element that’s fully expected in a long-term arrangement is a limit on the number and kinds of centrifuges Iran can use to enrich uranium. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said there’s an irony in that.In investigating how many centrifuges are necessary to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, Politifact asked another expert, Matthew Bunn to explain further:
"If you are going to have a nuclear weapons program, 5,000 is pretty much the number you need," Morell, now a CBS analyst, said on Charlie Rose. "If you have a power program, you need a lot more. By limiting them to a small number of centrifuges, we are limiting them to the number you need for a weapon."
Bunn said there are two reasons. First, you need tens of tons of material to fuel a power reactor for a year, but just tens of kilograms to make a bomb. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the threshold amount for a bomb is about 25 kilograms of the most highly enriched U-235.The fact that most of the work of producing highly enrich uranium is done by the time uranium is enriched to 4-5 percent is what Hassan Rouhani, now Iran's president, was referring to when he said ten years ago that "Having fuel cycle capability almost means that the country that possesses this capability is able to produce nuclear weapons, should that country have the political will to do so.”
And while yes, it’s harder to make 90 percent enriched uranium (bomb) than 4-5 percent enriched uranium (power), it’s not that much harder, Bunn said.
The toughest part in the process comes when you start with the raw uranium. By the time you’ve brought that to 4-5 percent, "you’ve already done more than 2/3 of the work of going all the way to 90 percent U-235 for weapons," Bunn said. "So the amount of work needed to make bomb material is only a modest amount more per kilogram, and the number of kilograms you need for bombs is 1,000 times less.