Iran has announced its intention to develop propeller systems for nuclear-powered marine vessels that are likely to require enrichment of uranium to a level that violates the 2015 nuclear deal.
According to Reuters,
Rouhani’s announcement marked Tehran’s first concrete reaction to a decision by the U.S. Congress last month to extend some sanctions on Tehran that would also make it easier to reimpose others lifted under the nuclear pact.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the Obama Administration was aware of the order and is confident that it does not violate the agreement. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for nuclear-powered ships, not the nuclear enrichment necessary to power them itself, which may not technically violate the agreement. Yet for most people, this order probably inspires more concern than the administration appears to have.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States was confident the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iran’s nuclear sites, would be able to analyze Iran’s compliance with the deal.
Kirby went on to say that “there’s a lot we don’t know about it, what it means.” He seems to have difficulty interpreting the intentions of Rouhani, who, again, stated that the decisions was a response to the recent extension of sanctions by the U.S. Congress, something that, according to the Wall Street Journal, in his opinion “violated the nuclear accord.”
In other words, Rouhani takes a move he claims is in violation of the deal as an opportunity to order the development of technology requiring uranium in violation of the deal to actually function. It is not difficult to surmise that he hopes to stretch the confines of the deal’s terms or ignore them entirely.
Again, from the Wall Street Journal:
Many nuclear-powered vessels are fueled with uranium enriched above 90%, but some of the world’s navies, including France’s, use uranium enriched to less than 10%, according to a paper published in March by researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.
The story then quotes George Moore, a scientist-in-residence at the Middlebury institute, who says that a propulsion system using nuke-deal-compliant uranium is theoretically possible, but “not very practical at all.”
Considering that Iran would need technology unutilized in nuclear-powered vessel even by more technologically advanced countries, the White House wants us to believe that Rouhani essentially intends to develop a sports car, but only power it with a lawnmower engine for at least the next 15 years.
John Kirby considers the program embarked upon by Iran to be one that will take decades to realize, apparently presuming that by the time Iran gets around to needing such uranium, it will be allowed to refine it.
However, even Edwin Lyman, a nuclear expert at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, who believes the development will take at least a decade, called the developments “unfortunate” and said that signs of the deal’s erosion “must be taken very seriously and immediately addressed by the international community.”
Mark Hibbs, nuclear expert and senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had stronger words in response to Rouhani’s announcement, saying that “Iran would be looking for a non-weapons rationale to provocatively increase its enrichment level in the case that the deal with the powers comes unstuck.”
Still, the White House apparently is confident in the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s compliance with the deal. Earnest’s briefing purports to tell us there’s nothing to see here. That isn’t surprising considering the Democratic Party is running defense on the Obama legacy with Trump soon to take office.
But whereas Nancy Pelosi may consider it a good bet that Republicans can’t pull off a repeal of Obamacare, potential violations of a nuclear deal by the Iranian government are not something to gamble over.