It’s obvious that chess was invented in Persia.
Iranian officials in negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry’s delegation over the disposition of Iran’s nuclear program are executing a deception gambit worthy of any grandmaster, the inevitable result of which will be that Tehran will acquire nuclear weapons. Not in spite of, but thanks to, already agreed on U.S. terms.
The gambit is this: The nuclear watchdog IAEA in Vienna reports that Tehran already has enough 20 percent, low-enriched uranium stockpiled--and a sufficient number of smoothly functioning centrifuge cascades--to enrich enough U-235 to 90 percent weapons-grade for up to seven weapons. The Iranians moreover can achieve this level of enrichment 60 days after they initiate a “production dash.” (It is a counter-intuitive fact in uranium enrichment science that ninety percent of the processing required to attain weapons-grade material has already been done by the time you get to 20% enriched.) That’s the way it is with uranium enrichment.
Endless negotiating over the other terms of the agreement therefore is irrelevant: sanctions, inspections, fuel storage, overseas procurement, decommissioning sites, and civilian energy production, all are expendable chess pieces that Tehran can, after disingenuous protest, selectively surrender without cost. The U.S.-imposed limit of 9,000 centrifuges--all the machines they need to enrich--has already been agreed on.
The Iranians have kept the West talking about the nuclear program in one form or another since 2003, giving them more than a decade to develop centrifuges, solve problems, improve rotor design, assemble and test finicky cascades. Productivity and performance at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and at the underground cascade halls at Fordow have significantly improved. The result is an existing stockpile of 20%, low- enriched uranium which in 2013 was estimated to be six tons. (A single weapon requires 25 kilograms of U-235.)
The Iranians have kept the West talking about the nuclear program in one form or another since 2003, giving them more than a decade to develop centrifuges, solve problems, improve rotor design, assemble and test finicky cascades.
The ancillary Iranian deception concerns weaponization. Namely, how, when, and where Tehran will use its fissile material to fashion a nuclear device. (They already have the bomb designs, thanks very much to the Chinese.) Iranian scientists then must “miniaturize” the device and install it in the nose of a ballistic missile with sufficient range and accuracy to hit Tel Aviv or Chicago. In all this, they’ll have to deal with successive scientific hurdles, production challenges, solid-fuel rocket motor testing, assembly of sophisticated guidance packages. A years’ long process? Certainly. Easily monitored and detected? Relatively, yes. But it’s not the relevant consideration.
The West is counting on big calendar delays inherent in weaponization and missile development before a nuclear Iran can start throwing its weight around. This is a miscalculation, and one that must surely delight the mullahs.
Who needs a missile? Iran, in a matter of weeks could fabricate and assemble a rudimentary “breadboard” fission device the size of a refrigerator, install a GPS detonator calibrated to go off at the latitude and longitude of the Port of Newark (40.72N 74.17W), and ship it in a sea-land container through Antwerp. Or give it to Al Qaeda to deliver. Or make a pact with the Devil--ISIS--to smuggle the device into Israel or the U.S., and let the despised Sunnis suffer the consequences.
The June 30 deadline for the resolution of the negotiations is drawing near. Will there be a breakthrough in the negotiations? Will Tehran concede on any of the terms? If you stand very quietly on a promontory in the Natanz mountain range in the central highlands of Iran, the faint humming noise you hear is the 9000 centrifuges spinning in underground Halls A and B at the Fuel Enrichment Plant. Checkmate.
Jason Matthews is a retired officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations. He is the author of "Palace of Treason: A Novel" (Scribner, June 2015).