Monday, March 27, 2006

Military force can't destroy our atomic program: Iran

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
Military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites would not destroy the Islamic republic's uranium enrichment activities, which could be easily moved and restarted, a senior Iranian official said on Monday.

"You know very well ... we can enrich uranium anywhere in the country, with a vast country of more than 1 million 600 square kilometers," said Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. READ MORE

"Enrichment can be done anywhere in Iran," he told a panel discussion on the possible use of military force to destroy what the West fears is Iran's atomic bomb program.

Soltaniyeh said that after Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear power plant at Osirak in 1981, then Iraqi-leader Saddam Hussein bombed Iran's Bushehr plant.

The Security Council then passed a resolution condemning the attacks and making it illegal for countries to strike nuclear facilities.

But Soltaniyeh said those U.N. documents were "just pieces of paper" today to the United States and Israel.

Soltaniyeh said Iran was hiding nothing from the world and that all of its nuclear fuel facilities were known to the U.N. nuclear watchdog. But he hinted that threats of possible military action against Tehran could change that.

"Any threat or potential threat will create a very complicated situation," he said, adding that Iran would never give up its enrichment program.

A retired U.S. Air Force colonel and well-known war gaming expert told the conference the United States was under increasing pressure to use military force to destroy Iran's atomic sites and would make a decision on this option soon.

Iran has completed a 164-machine "cascade" of centrifuges to enrich uranium at its Natanz plant and is expected to begin testing it soon, diplomats in Vienna say. Operating such a cascade would not enable it to fuel any atomic weapons but would enable Iran to master the difficult art of uranium enrichment.

"I think we may be looking at a (U.S.) decision in six to nine months," said Sam Gardiner, a military strategy expert who has taught at the U.S. Army's National War College.

"I say before the November elections there will be a serious decision made in the United States," he said.

Gardiner said that while Washington supported European and Russian efforts to use diplomacy to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, U.S. officials were skeptical about the efficacy of sanctions or other diplomatic weapons.

Washington also believes the U.N. Security Council will fail to agree on a course of action against Tehran, he said.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed solely at the peaceful generation of electricity. However, it hid its uranium enrichment program, which could produce fuel for nuclear power plants or weapons, from U.N. inspectors for nearly two decades.

Gardiner said a U.S. operation aimed at destroying Iran's nuclear facilities would take less than a week and would not use any of the forces currently stationed in Iraq.

"This is an operation that would not take more than five evenings to do," he said, adding that it would probably use Stealth bombers to bomb the facilities.

But Gardiner said all his war-gaming and analysis had led him to the conclusion that Ambassador Soltaniyeh was right and the military solution would not destroy Iran's nuclear program as the know-how would remain.

"I don't think U.S. policymakers understand that the military option won't work," he said, adding that continued diplomacy was the only way to resolve the issue.