Tag Archives: International Atomic Energy Agency

Earliest Date Possible for Iran’s First Bomb, February 2012

Iran’s Efforts to Develop Nuclear Weapons Explicated
Centrifuge Uranium Enrichment Continues Unimpeded
The IAEA’s November 8, 2011 Safeguards Update

AUTHOR: Greg S. Jones

In eight previous reports, this author has outlined how Iran’s growing centrifuge enrichment program could provide it with the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.[1]  On May 24, 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a further safeguards update.[2]  This update shows that Western efforts to impede Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program continue to be ineffective.  Iran has increased its enriched uranium production rate to about 105 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium per month.[3]  This is a 17% increase since the last IAEA report in February 2011 and it occurred despite repeated press reports of cyber attacks in 2009 having slowed Iran’s enrichment efforts, Iran’s current production rate of 3.5% enriched uranium has actually increased 84% over Iran’s 2009 production rate.  Iran is also maintaining a steady production rate of about 2.7 kilograms per month of 19.7% enriched uranium.

As of May 14, 2011, Iran had produced 2,775 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium (in the form of 4,105 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride).  With this quantity of 3.5% enriched uranium, Iran could produce more than the 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) needed for a nuclear weapon by batch recycling at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.  With Iran’s current number of operating centrifuges, the batch recycling would take about two months once Iran decided to initiate the process.

Iran has already started the process of converting its stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium into the HEU needed for nuclear weapons, as is evidenced by its production of 19.7% enriched uranium.  This is an intermediate step on the road to the production of HEU.  As of May 21, 2011, Iran had accumulated a stockpile of about 38.3 kilograms of 19.7% enriched uranium (in the form of 56.7 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride).  As of that date, about 320 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium had already been processed into 19.7% enriched uranium, making Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium about 2,455 kilograms.  As Iran’s stockpile of 19.7% enriched uranium continues to grow, the time required for it to be able to produce a weapons worth of HEU will continue to decline.

Iran has three known centrifuge enrichment facilities.  Iran’s main facility is the FEP at Natanz.  The basic unit of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment effort is a cascade which consists of 164 centrifuges, though Iran has begun to modify some cascades by increasing the number of centrifuges to 174.  (All centrifuges installed up to now have been of the IR-1 type.)  Each cascade is designed to enrich natural uranium to 3.5% enriched uranium.  As of May 14, 2011, Iran had installed 53 cascades containing approximately 8,000 centrifuges at the FEP.  Of these 53 cascades, only 35 (containing 5,860 centrifuges) were being fed with uranium hexafluoride and therefore producing 3.5% enriched uranium.[4]

Also at Natanz, Iran has the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) which is used to test a number of more advanced centrifuge designs.  These are usually configured as single centrifuges or small ten or twenty centrifuge test cascades.  However, Iran has indicated that it plans to install two full cascades containing more advanced centrifuges (one cascade using IR-4 centrifuges and one cascade using IR-2m centrifuges) which could significantly increase the rate of Iran’s production of 3.5% enriched uranium.  In addition, there are two full cascades each with 164 IR-1 type centrifuges at the PFEP.  These two cascades are interconnected and are being used to process 3.5% enriched uranium into 19.7% enriched uranium.  Iran began producing 19.7% enriched uranium at the PFEP in February 2010.

Finally Iran is constructing an enrichment facility near Qom.  Known as the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), this plant’s construction was started clandestinely in violation of its IAEA safeguards.  Its existence was only revealed by Iran in September 2009 after Iran believed that the plant had been discovered by the West.  According to the IAEA, no centrifuges have yet been installed at FFEP.

From Iran’s current monthly production rate of 105 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium, one can calculate that the centrifuges at the FEP produce about 4,600 SWU per year.[5]  Given that in the past Iran’s centrifuges were each producing about 0.89 SWU per year, 4,600 SWU per year would indicate that the equivalent of about 31 cascades (5,184 centrifuges) were in operation.  Note that Iran had 31 cascades in operation at the end of the last IAEA reporting period on February 20, 2011.  Since the IAEA has indicated that on May 14, 2011, Iran had 35 cascades producing 3.5% enriched uranium, this implies that either some cascades are not operating at full effectiveness or that the new cascades only came online near the end of the current IAEA reporting period.  At any rate, one should expect further increases in Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity at the FEP.

Given that Iran has the equivalent of 5,184 centrifuges in operation at the FEP and stockpiles of about 2,455 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium and 38.3 kilograms of 19.7% enriched uranium, it can use batch recycling at the FEP to produce the HEU needed for a nuclear weapon.  This process is illustrated in Table 1.

Two steps are required.  In the first step, 3.5% enriched uranium is enriched to 19.7% enriched uranium.  Iran would need to produce 158.2 kilograms of 19.7% enriched uranium (including 5 kilograms for the plant inventory in the second step).  However, since it has already produced 38.3 kilograms of 19.7% enriched uranium, Iran would need only to produce an additional 119.9 kilograms.  This step would require 1,415 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium as feed but Iran’s current stockpile well exceeds this figure.  In the second step, the 19.7% enriched uranium would be further enriched to the 90% level suitable for a nuclear weapon.  Using Iran’s currently operating centrifuges at the FEP, the batch recycling would take about two months.

Note however, that there would be nothing illegitimate about the first step of this process since Iran’s current production of 19.7% enriched uranium at the PFEP has established the principle that Iran is permitted to produce and possess such material.  Only at the second step would Iran have violated the NPT, but as the second step takes only about two weeks, there would be very little time for Western counteraction before the process was completed.  Indeed since the FEP is not continuously monitored by the IAEA, the process could be well along or even completed before it was discovered.

Table 1 

Time, Product and Feed Requirements for the Production of 20 kg of HEU by Batch Recycling at the FEP (31 Equivalent Operating Cascades, 5,184 Centrifuges, 0.89 SWU per Centrifuge-Year)

 

Cycle

Product Enrichment and Quantity

Feed Enrichment and Quantity

Time for Cycle (Days)

First

19.7%

119.9 kg

3.5%

1,415 kg

46

Second

90.0%

20 kg

19.7%

153.2 kg*

12

Total

62**

 

*  Includes 38.3 kilograms of 19.7% enriched uranium that Iran has already stockpiled. 

**Includes four days to account for equilibrium and cascade fill time.    

Nor is batch recycling of enriched uranium at the FEP the only pathway for Iran to produce the fissile material required for nuclear weapons, though it is the process that allows Iran to produce HEU most quickly.  Iran could produce HEU at a clandestine enrichment plant.  Since Iran continues to refuse to implement the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement, the IAEA would find it very difficult to locate a clandestine enrichment plant—a fact that the IAEA has continued to confirm.[6]  While this has been a theoretical possibility since 2007, its salience increased with the discovery in September 2009 that Iran was actually building such a clandestine enrichment plant (the FFEP near Qom).

A clandestine enrichment plant containing 23 cascades (3,772 centrifuges, 0.89 SWU per machine-year) could produce around 20 kilograms of HEU (the amount required for one nuclear weapon) each year using natural uranium as feed.  Since this option does not require any overt breakout from safeguards, the relatively slow rate of HEU production would not necessarily be of any concern to Iran.  Such production could be going on right now and the West might well not know.  A clandestine enrichment plant would need a source of uranium but Iran is producing uranium at a mine near Bandar Abbas.[7]  Since Iran has refused to implement the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards, this uranium mining is unsafeguarded and the whereabouts of the uranium that Iran has produced there is unknown.

A clandestine 23 cascade enrichment plant could also be used to convert Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium into the HEU required for weapons.  The 20 kilograms of HEU needed for a weapon could be produced in about four and one half months.[8]  Further only about 600 kilograms of 3.5% would be required to produce 20 kilograms of HEU, so the current stockpile of about 2,450 kilograms of 3.5% enriched uranium would be more than enough for four weapon’s worth of HEU, though this entire process would take more than one year to complete.  Additionally, using its current stockpile in this fashion would require Iran to violate IAEA safeguards.  The time required could be shortened by assuming that the clandestine enrichment plant contains more that 23 cascades but a very large clandestine enrichment plant appears to be implausible currently, given Iran’s resources.

Overall Iran continues to make increasingly rapid progress towards acquiring the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons completely unimpeded by any Western counteraction.  While one can argue about the existence of possible Iranian clandestine enrichment facilities, the ability of Iran to produce HEU by batch recycling at the FEP at Natanz is undeniable.  Using its current stockpiles of 3.5% enriched uranium and 19.7% enriched uranium, Iran can now produce a weapon’s worth (20 kilograms) of HEU any time it wishes.  With Iran’s current number of operating centrifuges, the batch recycling process would take about two months.  As Iran produces additional 19.7% enriched uranium and/or brings additional centrifuges on line, this time span will only decrease.

Since the last IAEA report on Iran in February, there have been a large number of momentous news events that have pushed Iran and its drive for nuclear weapons out of the spotlight.[9]  This fact was illustrated by the reporting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on May 24, 2011, the same date as the IAEA released its latest report on Iran.  Though roughly a fifth of this speech dealt with the nuclear threat from Iran, there was no mention of this fact in the U.S. media accounts of this speech.

Regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu said “Israel always reserves the right to defend itself,” indicating that Israel might yet preemptively strike Iran’s nuclear program.[10]  However, Netanyahu clearly would prefer that the U.S. be the one to take action, saying, “This is why I ask you to continue to send an unequivocal message: that America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately, it is unclear what actions the U.S. or Israel could take (short of militarily occupying Iran) that could now prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons.  The reality is that both the U.S. and Israel have failed to prevent Iran from gaining the ability to produce nuclear weapons whenever Iran wishes to do so.  It is time to recognize this policy failure and decide what to do next, based on a realistic assessment of Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] My most recent prior report is: “Cyber Attack, What Cyber Attack?  Iran’s Rate of Enriched Uranium Production Remains Steady: Centrifuge Enrichment and the IAEA February 25, 2011 Update,” November 30, 2010, http://www.npolicy.org/article_file/What_Cyber_Attack.pdf

[2] Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, GOV/2011/29, May 24, 2011.

[3] To avoid problems with the fact that the length of a month is variable, we have adopted a uniform month length of 30.44 days.

[4] The IAEA’s description of the number of centrifuges being fed with uranium hexafluoride is rather ambiguous: “The 35 cascades being fed with UF6 on that date contained a total of 5,860 centrifuges, some of which were possibly not being fed with UF6.”  Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, GOV/2011/29, May 24, 2011, p.2.

[5] Assuming 0.4% tails.  A SWU is a Separative Work Unit, which is a measure of the amount of enrichment a facility can perform.  It is the product of the uranium flow though the facility and the increase in U-235 concentration between stages.

[6] “While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”  Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, GOV/2011/29, May 24, 2011, p.9.

[7] Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, GOV/2011/7, February 25, 2011, p.9.

[8] Using tails of 0.4%.

[9] These have included a magnitude 9 earthquake off Japan, leading to a devastating tsunami as well as a nuclear disaster at Fukushima to rival Chernobyl; the worst tornado spring in U.S. history; and the Arab Spring which led to the overthrow of the governments in Egypt and Tunisia, civil war in Libya, and unrest in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

[10] For the text of this speech see: http://www.israelemb.org/index.php/en/latest-news/461-prime-minister-netanyahu-addresses-a-joint-meeting-of-congress

Full Report:

http://npolicy.org/article_file/Iran_Efforts_to_Develop_Nuclear_Weapons_Explicated.pdf

 

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An Unavoidable Challenge – Now is the time to make the case for military action against Iran

Our political calendar and one of our nation’s greatest threats have synchronized. In the upcoming year, the American people will render their judgment on Barack Obama’s presidency. Meanwhile, if the International Atomic Energy Agency‘s November report is accurate, Iran will soon join the ranks of the world’s nuclear powers. Because of the Obama administration’s reluctance to confront this looming threat, others — such as the Republican presidential candidates — must begin preparing the case for a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear program.

Republican frontrunners have seized upon the threat. In last month’s South Carolina debate, Mitt Romney promised that Iran “will not have a nuclear weapon” under his presidency. Economic sanctions and aid to internal opposition come first, said the former Massachusetts governor, but “if all else fails . . . [and] there’s nothing else we can do besides take military action, then of course you take military action.”

Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in several early states, heartily agrees. In the South Carolina debate, Gingrich proposed covert operations, including “taking out their scientists” and “breaking up their systems,” and a Cold War-style strategy “of breaking the regime and bringing it down.” But the former House speaker “agree[s] entirely” with Romney that, should pressure fail, “you have to take whatever steps are necessary” to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In this game of diplomatic poker, the Republicans would go all in where the last administration and the present one have checked. Though he declares that “we don’t take any options off the table,” President Obama avoids explicit military threats. Instead he seeks to “isolate and increase the pressure upon the Iranian regime.” He naïvely hoped to negotiate a settlement with Tehran (and Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea!), but he has ended up in the same place as his predecessor. George W. Bush declined to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. He also passed on striking a suspected Syrian nuclear facility (the Israelis destroyed it in 2007). Like Obama, he pursued economic sanctions and applied political pressure to foster Iranian regime change.

President Obama has done more than merely delay the inevitable day of reckoning with Iran. He has left the public uninformed about the nature and possible consequences of military action, which must be serious and sustained enough to destroy complex, protected, and dispersed facilities — pinpoint bombing of a single facility will not end Iran’s nuclear program. Iran might respond by attacking Israel, Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia, and oil shipments in the Persian Gulf. President Obama has also failed to explain the heavy costs of containment, which would involve a constant, significant conventional and nuclear military presence on Iran’s perimeter.

Obama has compounded this political negligence by failing to build the legal case for attacking Iran. Instead, the administration has tethered American national security to the dictates of the United Nations. In Libya, Obama delayed launching the air war until the Security Council approved the intervention, allowing a popular revolution to metastasize into a prolonged, destructive civil war. The same craving for international approval may lead the administration to put off military action against Iran until it is too late.

The U.N. Charter guarantees the “territorial integrity” and “political independence” of each member nation, and prohibits the use of force except in self-defense, which many scholars and international officials interpret to mean that force is prohibited except when an invader has attacked across a border or is about to do so. It does provide an exception for war to prevent threats to international peace and security, but only if approved by the Security Council (where the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China all have a veto). Not surprisingly, U.N. authorizations to use force are rare. China and Russia, both Security Council members, generally oppose intervention in what they consider “internal” affairs, including policies that repress political and economic freedoms. They can usually be counted on to protect other oppressive regimes by blocking U.N. approval for war, as they did in Iraq in 2003.

Just as national governments claim a monopoly on the use of force within their borders and in exchange offer police protection, the U.N. asks nations to give up their right to go to war and in exchange offers to police the world. But the U.N. has no armed forces of its own, has a crippled decision-making system, and lacks political legitimacy. It is contrary to both American national interests and global welfare because it subjects any intervention, no matter how justified or beneficial, to the approval of authoritarian nations.

Thankfully, the U.S. has not often waited for the Security Council’s permission to protect its interests. But if the president seeks U.N. authorization for a military action against Iran, his administration will have to make a case much like the one that the Bush administration made regarding Iraq. It can argue that destroying Iran’s nuclear weapons is a combination of self-defense and protecting international security. Nuclear weapons in the hands of an obvious enemy would constitute a grave threat to American interests. Even without them, Iran has fomented conflict in the region, supported groups hostile to Israel through its client state Syria, supported terrorists who target American allies such as Saudi Arabia, and attacked American troops in Iraq. It has also supported attacks on our embassies and military bases in places such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, planned to kill ambassadors on American soil, and of course taken our diplomatic officials hostage. Nuclear weapons would allow Iran to escalate hostilities with little fear of any large-scale American military response. If Saddam Hussein had succeeded in his drive to build nuclear weapons, would the United States have gone to war in 1991 to protect a small, oil-rich sheikdom?

A president need not wait until an attack is imminent before taking action. Iranian nuclear capabilities would cause a radical reversal of the balance of power, and that fact justifies action in itself. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pres. John F. Kennedy imposed a blockade, which is an act of war, though his legal advisers claimed it was a “quarantine” instead. Soviet nuclear missiles were not fueling on the launch pads, but President Kennedy used force because the Russian deployment upset the superpower equilibrium in the Western Hemisphere.

Even realists who criticize a pro-democracy agenda should support the prevention of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Iran seeks to export its fundamentalist revolution, with its brutal suppression of individual rights and free markets, throughout the region. It stokes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its president hopes to wipe Israel from the map. It undermines reconstruction and reconciliation in Iraq. It supports terrorists throughout the world. It threatens to close off the Straits of Hormuz, through which travels 17 percent of the oil traded worldwide. It has attacked shipping in the Persian Gulf. A nuclear Iran could expand its asymmetric warfare against its neighbors, or even escalate into conventional warfare, with little fear of direct retaliation.

Military action need not go so far as an invasion or even a no-fly zone. Our forces would have to destroy Iranian air-defense sites, but otherwise, thanks to precision-guided missiles and drones, they could concentrate on a few links in the Iranian nuclear chain: the centrifuge facilities where uranium is enriched, the assembly points for weapons, and perhaps missile and air-delivery systems.

The surgical nature of such strikes would make them proportional to the military objective, which would be not the overthrow of the Iranian regime but the destruction of its nuclear capability. Nuclear-weapons infrastructure is a legitimate military target, even if some strikes may kill civilians. If casualties result because facilities are located beneath cities, the fault rests with the Iranians for deliberately using civilians to shield its military — a move long forbidden by the laws of war. Unlike Iranian-supported terrorist groups, the United States will assuredly do everything possible to keep civilian loss of life to a minimum.

The United States has assumed the role, once held by Great Britain, of guaranteeing free trade and economic development, spreading liberal values, and maintaining international security. An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, though it would impose costs in human lives and political turmoil, would serve these interests and forestall the spread of conflict and terror. The Republican presidential candidates should begin preparing the case now for this difficult but unavoidable challenge.

Mr. Yoo is a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He served in the Bush Justice Department from 2001 to 2003 and is the co-editor of Confronting Terror.

December 19, 2011

 

Merry Christmas from the mullahs…

Iran’s war games could force U.S. to ‘respond aggressively’
Add this in as well for the weekend, the Taliban, al Qaeda connection.. Were building the case.. And not fast enough if you ask me.We need to strike by September.

Iran’s nuclear push is rapidly turning into a game of chicken with the world’s economy.

Faced with the threat of growing international sanctions and unprecedented economic uncertainty that has seen the value of its currency halved in recent weeks, Iran announced Thursday its navy will stage a 10-day exercise in the Strait of Hormuz, starting Saturday.

The move, which increases the risk of military confrontation with the United States, has the potential to temporarily choke off oil exports from the Middle East, drive up international energy prices and damage the global economy.

Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, head of Iran’s navy, said submarines, destroyers, missile-launching ships and attack boats will occupy a 2,000-kilometre stretch of sea from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, to the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea.

“Iran’s military and Revolutionary Guards can close the Strait of Hormuz. But such a decision should be made by top establishment leaders,” he said.

This month, Parviz Sarvari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee, said Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz as part of a military exercise.

“If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure,” he said.
In November, Iran’s energy minister told Al Jazeera television Tehran could use oil as a political tool in the event of future conflict over its nuclear program.

Dubbed Velayat-90 (Velayat is Persian for supremacy), the war games are designed to display Iran’s naval power in the face of growing international criticism of its nuclear work.

This week, Leon Panetta, the U.S. Defence Secretary, predicted Iran will be able to assemble a nuclear bomb within a year and warned the United States had not ruled out using military force to prevent that from happening.

The day before Iran announced the war games, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN television the U.S. was determined to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

“My biggest worry is they will miscalculate our resolve,” he said. “Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world.”

Iran said the war games would be held in international waters.

The Strait is a 50-kilometre wide passageway through which about a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic sails. Whoever controls this crucial choke-point virtually controls Middle East oil exports.

“The importance of this waterway to both American military and economic interests is difficult to overstate,” said a report by geopolitical analysts at the global intelligence firm Stratfor.

“Considering Washington’s more general — and fundamental — interest in securing freedom of the seas, the U.S. Navy would almost be forced to respond aggressively to any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz.”

“Iran has built up a large mix of unconventional forces in the Gulf that can challenge its neighbours in a wide variety of asymmetric wars, including low-level wars of attrition,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.

This includes nearly 200 missile patrol boats, equipped with sea-skimming anti-ship missiles, which “can be used to harass civil shipping and tankers, and offshore facilities, as well as attack naval vessels,” he said.

“These light naval forces have special importance because of their potential ability to threaten oil and shipping traffic in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, raid key offshore facilities and conduct raids on targets on the Gulf Coast.”

But Mr. Cordesman also warned “Iran could not ‘close the Gulf’ for more than a few days to two weeks even if it was willing to sacrifice all of these assets, suffer massive retaliation, and potentially lose many of its own oil facilities and export revenues.”

“It would almost certainly lose far more than it gained from such a ‘war,’ but nations often fail to act as rational bargainers in a crisis, particularly if attacked or if their regimes are threatened,” Mr. Cordesman wrote in a report titled Iran, Oil, and the Strait of Hormuz.

Closing the Strait for just 30 days would send the price of crude racing up to US$300 to $500 a barrel, a level that would trigger global economic instability and cost the U.S. nearly US$75-billion in economic activity.

“One bomb on Iran and oil prices could shoot up to $300 or even $500 a barrel,” veteran UPI correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote recently.

According to a computerized war game carried out by the Heritage Foundation in Washington in 2007, the effects of an Iranian attempt to block Gulf oil shipping may be minimal because the U.S. and its allies would immediately send military and naval forces to protect shipping lanes.

If Iran destroyed oil tankers or impeded the transit of oil and other commerce, it could expect to suffer considerable damage in retaliatory attacks, the study said.

The potential for a naval confrontation comes just as the U.S. and its allies are stepping up pressure to impose even stricter economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to force it to abandon its controversial nuclear program.

This follows the introduction of stronger economic sanctions by the U.S. and Europe after a International Atomic Energy Agency report issued in November increased fears Iran is working to develop atomic bomb capability.

Sanctions appear to be hurting Iran, squeezing its banks and sending the Iranian rial plunging to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar.

Washington recently declared Iranian banks guilty of money laundering, forcing U.S. banks to step up the reporting requirements of any banks they deal with who may be doing business with Iran.
This has made it so difficult for foreign businesses many have decided to stop dealing with the Iranians.

In November, Canada and Britain also decided to sever all ties with the Central Bank of Iran and France began calling for a European Union boycott of Iranian oil.

Last week, Issa Jafari, an Iranian parliamentarian, said, “If oil sanctions are imposed on Iran, we will not allow even a single barrel of oil to be exported to countries hostile to us.”
In the past, Iranian officials have dismissed sanctions as doomed to fail, but this week Akbar Salehi, the Foreign Minister, told the official Islamic Republic New Agency, “We cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect.”

Mahmoud Bahmani, governor of the Central Bank of Iran, also said Iran needs to act as if it were “under siege.”
pgoodspeed@nationalpost.com