My colleague Barbara Slavin writes:
In the wake of last week’s nuclear talks in Baghdad, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday blasted the process as a waste of time that is allowing Iran to get closer to nuclear weapons.
But Iran’s progress toward bomb capacity is not as fast as some have feared and there is ample time for more talking, according to David Albright, president and founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. Albright told an audience at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday that “the technical clock is not ticking as fast” as the “political clock.” The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Iranian nuclear program shows that Iran is still having trouble building more advanced centrifuges than the breakdown-prone P-1 centrifuge, which is based on a Dutch design from the 1970s that was passed to Iran by the Pakistani nuclear black market king A.Q. Khan. Iran also appears to be having difficulty getting materials for the P-1s. Of more than 2,000 centrifuge casings installed earlier this year at the underground Fordow plant near Qom, only a few hundred have had rotor assemblies installed in them, Albright said.
While Iran theoretically has enough low-enriched uranium already to make five nuclear weapons, Albright said Iran would be caught within two-to-four weeks by IAEA inspectors if it tried to divert this material to make weapons-grade uranium. He said there was “little chance Iran will break out in 2012” and probably well into 2013.
The main problem plaguing the nuclear negotiations, he said at the event (at which I also spoke), is that there is a “lack of vision” on both sides as to what the goal of the talks should be.
The Barack Obama administration is inhibited by domestic political pressures in a presidential re-election year — pressures that Israel is intensifying.
Suspension of uranium enrichment — whatever its percentage of U-235 — “is a short term measure,” Albright said, but “it has become the goal.” Instead, he said, the U.S. and its partners should focus on convincing Iran to come clean about its past activities and be willing to live with Iran continuing some enrichment activities.