Friday, August 20, 2010

Going Critical: Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Reactor Starts Up

From the Washington Institute for Near East PolicyPolicy - Watch #1691, August 18, 2010, by Simon Henderson and Stefanie Peterson:

At a ceremony near the southern Iranian coastal city of Bushehr this Saturday, Russia will begin the process of loading fuel rods into Iran's first civilian nuclear reactor. Theoretically distinct from the rest of the regime's disturbing nuclear program, the Bushehr plant nevertheless remains a major international concern. The low-enriched uranium in the fuel rods would, if diverted, substantially increase Iran's existing stock of the material, which many suspect is already being used to develop nuclear weapons. Even if they were used solely for electricity generation, the rods would eventually produce plutonium-rich residue that could also be reprocessed for use in a weapon. For Iran, the Bushehr event will be a gesture of defiance against U.S.-led international pressure; for Russia, a sign of Moscow's different diplomatic approach to the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran; and for the United States, an exception to the tightening sanctions regime, which officials claim is forcing Tehran to reconsider the wisdom of its policies.

... Russia is supplying the low-enriched uranium fuel, and the International Atomic Energy Agency will inspect the reactor regularly. Once the fuel rods are used up, they will be removed, immersed in water for several years to diminish their radiological hazard, and then returned to Russia in special railcars for reprocessing.

...The greatest concern about Bushehr is that it could contribute to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, currently centered at the expanding Natanz uranium enrichment plant 300 miles to the north. Tehran argues that its enrichment facilities are intended to fuel yet-to-be-built domestic power reactors, a claim widely deemed implausible. The prospect that Iran would divert material for enrichment is often ridiculed as being contradictory to its claims of purely peaceful nuclear ambitions, and the technical challenges involved in the process tend to bolster this view. But writing in the Financial Times on Monday, U.S. Treasury undersecretary Stuart Levey -- the Obama administration's point man on Iran sanctions -- noted that the regime's nuclear and missile programs involved "evasion" and "an array of deceptive practices."

A more immediate danger is that the Bushehr plant will provide cover for the training of Iranian nuclear scientists and technicians destined to work at Natanz or the Arak heavy-water research reactor (the latter a potential source of plutonium). The unfortunate overlap in skills needed for civilian and military nuclear programs, and consequent proliferation risk, is well known to the U.S. government: the Departments of Energy and Commerce require special approval of foreign nationals seeking employment in the nuclear energy divisions of companies such as General Electric.

...According to the Wall Street Journal, Washington acquiesced to this weekend's start-up as part of the diplomatic price for Moscow's acceptance of new UN sanctions on Iran, approved last month. U.S.-Russian diplomacy on the nuclear issue has been further complicated by Moscow's planned provision of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, a deal agreed but not yet enacted. Those missiles could greatly hamper any potential airstrikes against nuclear targets such as Natanz, Arak, or the Isfahan uranium conversion facility; consequently, their delivery could prompt an early Israeli airstrike before they became operational.

Once the Bushehr reactor becomes operational, the worst-case scenario is that Iran declares its military nuclear intentions and bars inspectors and Russian officials from the new plant. The fuel assemblies contain several tons of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent of the fissile (i.e., potentially explosive) U-235 isotope. If diverted and converted into feedstock for the Natanz enrichment plant, that material would considerably enhance the site's ability to produce the 90 percent enriched uranium needed for an atomic bomb. (So far, Natanz has produced just 5,300 pounds of low-enriched uranium, some as high as nearly 20 percent enriched.)

Alternatively, if used in the Bushehr reactor, the fuel rods would produce plutonium residue, and if reprocessed, that material could eventually be sufficient for the production of at least one nuclear bomb per year. And military action against any reactor containing plutonium would lead to widespread deadly contamination. (In contrast, Israel's 1981 strike against Iraq's nuclear reactor and 2007 destruction of Syria's planned reactor both took place before fuel had been inserted.)

...Washington should prepare itself for Iranian celebrations starting this weekend during the annual "Government Week," which showcases national achievements. New weapons systems will be displayed, and missile tests will be conducted. Yesterday, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi highlighted such weapons as evidence that "sanctions have had no impact on us but [have] made us more experienced and self-sufficient."

Tehran also recently announced that it will begin work on a third enrichment plant next year....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

USA intensifies Military Cooperation with Israel


TZEELIM, Israel—While the U.S. and Israeli diplomatic relations weather their choppiest phase in years, behind the scenes, military commanders from the two countries have dramatically stepped up cooperation.

The intensified partnership is part of the Obama administration's broader policy of boosting military support for American allies in the Mideast amid heightened tensions with Iran and its allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, according to U.S. officials. The Obama administration believes it may also help induce Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make concessions in talks with Palestinians, these officials said.

U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year. Top-ranking U.S. and Israeli soldiers have shuttled between Tel Aviv and Washington with unusual frequency in recent months. A series of joint military exercises in Israel over the past monthshas included a record number of American troops...

...Two joint U.S.-Israel committees, the U.S.-Israel Joint Political Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, which were established years ago and had fallen into disuse, have been beefed up with senior officials, including Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, the top-ranking civilian at the Pentagon, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The military cooperation began to intensify even as diplomatic relations between Washington and Israel frayed...

Officials in Washington and Israel continue to say they haven't ruled out a military strike against Iran amid Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West. But the new cooperation appears to be part saber-rattling at Iran and part reassuring Israel that the U.S. is fully committed to its security.

The senior U.S. official said President Barack Obama felt the increased military support is necessary to assure Israel's security against mounting regional threats, including Iran and its allies: Syria, the Gaza-based Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. "History has shown that Israel is more willing to take risks for peace when it feels it is capable of addressing its security needs," the official said.

U.S. military aid to Israel reached a high of $2.78 billion in 2010, up from $2.55 billion in 2009. It is slated to jump to $3 billion in 2011. The Obama administration has also requested an additional $205 million to fund a short-range rocket defense shield known as Iron Dome.

Washington's stepped-up military support comes amid similar moves to strengthen military ties with America's Arab allies in the region, including those that don't maintain ties with Israel.

This week, the Obama administration said it intended to provide new Patriot missile batteries to Kuwait. And Washington is readying a $60 billion sale of advanced F-15 fighter jets and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Peace Talks" 25 years later ...maybe? ...or maybe not?

 From the Dry Bones Blog, Tuesday, August 17, 2010 (a "Golden Oldie"):

..."Hussie" referred to King Hussein of Jordan. An Arab country that would sign a peace treaty with the Jewish State nine years later (in 1994).
Mubarak was, and is, the President of Egypt. An Arab country that had signed a peace treaty with the Jewish State six years earlier, (in 1979).
...25 years later, the latest news is a possible "breakthrough" with the Palestinian leadership!! Under pressure from the Americans, they may be ready for direct talks! ...and then again, maybe not.

Armed resistance is part of Fatah platform

From PMW, Aug. 17, 2010, by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook:

Another senior Fatah leader has expressed support for the use of armed resistance against Israel under the right conditions. In an interview on official Palestinian Authority Television, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub said:

"At the [Sixth Fatah] Conference, we affirmed the struggle in all its forms, including resistance and the armed struggle... The [armed] struggle is a means, not an end. The [armed] struggle is related to our abilities... must cause pain to the occupation [Israel]; it must be connected to a political platform."
[PA TV (Fatah), Aug. 6, 2010]

Rajoub's message echoes the recent pronouncements of former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Alaa) and other senior Fatah leaders, as reported last week by Palestinian Media Watch.

Qurei said that armed resistance is still acceptable as long as it is beneficial to the Palestinians' interests: "If it gives me [benefit] without costing me, yes." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 5, 2010]

Click to view the interview with Jibril Rajoub.

Click to see the PMW web site with numerous examples of Fatah leaders supporting violence...

Monday, August 16, 2010

US issues ultimatum to Turkey

From, 15 August 2010, by Daniel Dombey in Washington:

President Barack Obama has personally warned Turkey’s prime minister that unless Ankara shifts its position on Israel and Iran it stands little chance of obtaining the US weapons it wants to buy.

Mr Obama’s warning to Recep Tayyip Erdogan is particularly significant as Ankara wants to buy American drone aircraft – such as the missile-bearing Reaper – to attack the Kurdish separatist PKK after the US military pulls out of Iraq at the end of 2011.

...Washington was deeply frustrated when Turkey voted against United Nations sanctions on Iran in June. ...Mr Obama told Mr Erdogan that the Turks had failed to act as an ally in the UN vote. He also called on Ankara to cool its rhetoric about an Israeli raid that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza.

...They need to show that they take seriously American national security interests,” said [a senior] administration official...

Arabs prefer an Iranian bomb (57%) to Obama (20%)

From, 6 August 2010, by Daniel Dombey in Washington:

Barack Obama’s popularity has plummeted in the Arab world, where most people support an Iranian nuclear weapon, according to a poll released on Thursday.

The survey of almost 4,000 people in six countries will come as a blow to the White House, which has argued that positive perceptions of Mr Obama – particularly after his Cairo speech to the Muslim world in June last year – have helped retrieve US standing in the region.

...The poll, organised by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, a public opinion research group, says the proportion of respondents with positive views about Mr Obama has more than halved from 45 per cent to 20 per cent since last year. Those with negative views have almost tripled, from 23 per cent to 62 per cent.

Only 5 per cent of people said they had both a favourable personal view about Mr Obama and were hopeful about his foreign policy.

People were questioned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan.

...In other findings that could dismay the US, 57 per cent of respondents said that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons it would be a positive outcome for the Middle East. Only 3 per cent said they empathised with the Jewish people if they watched programmes about the Holocaust, with 88 per cent saying they resented such material or had mixed feelings.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister who clashed with Israel on the Gaza flotilla earlier this year, emerged as the most admired leader in the poll....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Europeans dictate preconditions for Mideast talks

From Reuters Africa, Thu Aug 12, 2010, by Douglas Hamilton*:

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Major powers are working on a statement to set the basis for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians...[European Union's foreign policy chief ] Catherine Ashton said ...the statement would be issued early next week, if both parties agreed to proceed to direct talks, and negotiations launched in August.

...Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated Monday he could go to direct talks, provided they were based on a March 19 statement by the Quartet.

Israeli newspapers said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. envoy George Mitchell Wednesday he wanted talks to start immediately without any such "precondition." ..."The government of Israel has been calling for the immediate start of direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians for more than a year now," [Netanyahu's spokesman Mark] Regev told Reuters.

...Abbas refuses to engage in direct talks...Ashton said the Quartet initiative "should help President Abbas rally enough support, both at home and abroad, to engage in direct talks."

The Quartet says Israel should halt settlement building in the West Bank and reach a full peace agreement with the Palestinians within 24 months, creating a state on the basis of the borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

Ashton's letter made clear that these terms, contained in the Quartet's statement from Moscow on March 19, would form the basis of its statement "to be issued concurrently with the announcement of the launch of direct talks."

...Both sides have discussed a possible land swap to adjust borders under any deal, as Israel has sought to maintain control over several major settlement blocs in the West Bank.

U.S. President Barack Obama wants the peace process to return to the level it broke off at nearly two years ago, when Israel went to war in the winter of 2008-09 to stop rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants.

The window of opportunity is narrowing. A partial 10-month moratorium on Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, ordered by Netanyahu last November, is due to end on September 26, posing a potentially fatal threat to any dialogue.

(*Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; editing by Alison Williams)