Tensions Escalate over Iranian Nuclear Aims
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The week has seen a slow, steady intensification of the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. NPR's Mike Shuster has been following developments and joins us now from NPR West. Michael, thanks very much for being with us.
MIKE SHUSTER reporting:
SIMON: Iran says we've joined the nuclear club. What exactly have Iranian scientists been able to do?
SHUSTER: Well, the truth is, Scott, we don't know exactly what Iranian scientists have been able to do. We do know what they claim to have done and they claim to have enriched uranium to 3.5 percent purity of uranium 235. That's the more radioactive isotope of uranium. They haven't said how much of it they enriched and experts suspect that they enriched a very small amount, if they have done this.
This would be in larger amount something that they could use a fuel for a nuclear reactor. But it's a far cry from making enough enriched uranium for a bomb and at the level of purity that would be necessary for a bomb, and most experts think they're years away from that.
SIMON: And the U.S. response so far, both from what we've been able to certify and what other reports are?
SHUSTER: Well, the Bush Administration has been making this an issue for quite some time. It intensified at the United Nations nearly a month ago with a call from the U.N. Security Council to Iran to stop activities related to uranium enrichment. And then there have been a number of public statements from the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and other senior officials of the Administration, putting pressure on Iran. And a lot of reports surfacing in the press of the possibility that there are close-to-operational plans underway by the Pentagon for air strikes that might be launched to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, including one allegation in the New Yorker some days ago that there might be a nuclear option on the table, that is that the Pentagon planners have factored in the use of small nuclear weapons to destroy some of the deeply buried facilities there in Iran.
So that's where the pressure is coming from on the United States side.
SIMON: France is on the record, too, saying that they would be willing to use nuclear weapons.
SHUSTER: I believe that French President Jacques Chirac made comments to this effect a couple of months ago and there was a lot of international criticism after that. For the moment, France being a member of the U.N. Security Council, and the United States, Great Britain, and China and Russia as well, are all on record calling on Iran to stop this activity. Where the diplomacy might go after this period of time, we're not quite sure.
SIMON: President Ahmadinejad on Friday warned that Israel would soon be annihilated. Now, he didn't say that Iran would do that, but he also didn't say it would be a plague of locusts. Does the United States have to be concerned about Israel acting?
SHUSTER: Well, certainly the Bush Administration is worried about this kind of statement that's been coming from Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President. He's made similar statements last year like this. The pressure from Iran to Israel seems to be something that's aimed more at coalescing Ahmadinejad's power inside Iran and maybe even appealing to the wider Middle East, because the truth is that Arab governments are also nervous about the Iranian government and the possibility that it might get nuclear weapons.
But certainly the fact that Iran is moving forward on its nuclear program at the same time that its president is making very hostile statements toward Israel is of great concern to the Israelis and by extension of great concern to the Bush Administration as well.
SIMON: Michael, a naïve question. Given what's happened this week and the stated position of the Iranian government, do you see anything that would end this crisis over the next month?
SHUSTER: Over the next month, no. I think this is a slow-moving crisis and it will play out for a number of months. The U.N. Security Council gave Iran a month to respond to its call. That month is up on April 28 and there's every reason to believe that soon thereafter the United States will go back to the Security Council and look for ways of intensifying the pressure, the diplomatic pressure, on Iran. There are certainly ways to end it. There could be pressure that might come from the Security Council, especially coming from Russia and China and even Japan that has close relations with Iran over the supply of energy, that they could really twist the Iranians' arms, threaten serious sanctions, even impose some, and it's always possible that the Iranians will back off. I don't think that there's any set outcome to this crisis at this stage of the game.
SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster. Thanks very much.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott.
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