According to Reports: Iranian Actions Make Need for Sanctions More Urgent

In his weekly Canadian Jewish News media analysis column “According to Reports,” Paul Michaels, CIC Director of Communications, looks at coverage of Iran announcing its latest nuclear enrichment capabilities.

Last week, Iran once again dominated foreign news coverage, this time with its announcement that it was pushing ahead with higher-grade nuclear fuel enrichment for “medical” research and was planning to start construction of 10 nuclear sites this year.

Tehran’s declaration came against a background of continuing domestic unrest despite the regime’s brutal crackdown on political protests, including the recent hangings of two young dissidents.  (As the Feb. 11 date marking the 30th anniversary of Iran’s “Islamic Revolution” approached, Tehran indicated that it wouldn’t tolerate further anti-government protests.)

Its declaration also prompted western governments to threaten tougher economic sanctions to try to thwart Iran’s nuclear plans that, they fear, are aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Anne Gearan of the Associated Press reported on Feb. 9 that at an impromptu news conference held that afternoon, U.S. President Barack Obama said that, since it appears Iran has “spurned” his offer of negotiations, the United States is developing a “significant regime of sanctions” for consideration at the UN Security Council.

However, as Canwest’s UN correspondent Steve Edwards noted (in “Iran negotiation led ‘to nothing,‘”  National Post, Feb. 9),  “while Russia has begun to reverse its hard-line opposition to more sanctions, China, whose economic expansion relies in part on continued supplies of Iranian oil, remained uncommitted. New evidence China has overtaken the EU to become Iran’s largest trading partner underscores the economic tie.”  As one of the permanent five members of the Security Council, China has a veto and many analysts believe Beijing would use it to block another round of sanctions.

In a followup story on Feb. 10, Edwards wrote that Obama is prepared to take action against Iran even if that means working around the Security Council – such is the urgency of the Iranian threat for the United States.

Adding a note of skepticism about what Iran can achieve in the near future in its nuclear program, Sam Segev (in “Iran playing its handWinnipeg Free Press, Feb. 9), said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “announcement that his country will begin enriching its stockpile of low-grade uranium to 20 per cent grade is not being taken very seriously in Israel.

“Israeli scientists and scholars see the announcement as part of the gamesmanship that Ahmadinejad is playing with President Barack Obama and with other western leaders. They say this is not the first time that Ahmadinejad is making such a threat. It’s part of the bargaining in the Persian Bazaar at which Ahamdinejad has been such a good player.”

Segev didn’t name these scientists and scholars, but mentioned an unnamed “former Israeli Mossad operative” who’s followed Iran’s nuclear program and claims that Iran currently lacks the capacity to produce 20 per cent enriched uranium, adding that it would take “many more years” to achieve this.

This analysis came as a surprise to Hershell Ezrin, CEO of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, who recently spoke with a range of Israeli and foreign experts about Iran at the Herzliya conference (as reported in last week’s CJN “Iran hijacks Herzliya Conference agenda”).  Even though no one can say with absolute certainty what Iran is technically capable of, “the consensus view,” Ezrin wrote, “is that Iran has been accelerating its efforts to produce nuclear weapons. Expectations are that Iran will achieve the nuclear bomb threshold including critical ignition testing in the months ahead.”

In “Nuclear Iran must be stopped, Israel says” (Globe and Mail, Feb. 10), Patrick Martin indicated that Iran’s 20 per cent enrichment claim was indeed being taken very seriously in Israel, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for immediate “crippling sanctions.”  Martin wrote that “While weapons-grade uranium is enriched to contain at least 90 per cent of the fissile isotope U-235, Iran’s intention to move to 20 per cent enrichment from the current 3.5 per cent is considered an ominous development. It is the low level of enrichment, experts say, that is the most laborious and time-consuming part of the process.” And he cited one of these experts urging that action against Iran be taken soon since the move to 90 per cent enrichment, for weapons, is the relatively easy part.