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Iran’s 3000 Centrifuges


If you thought the press was burying news about the surge, look at what they’re doing to the nuclear news from Iran. The IAEA has now confirmed that Iran has 3,000 working centrifuges, a ten-fold increase from just a year ago. If those 3,000 centrifuges can be made to work efficiently, Iran could manufacture a bomb in 12-18 months. This is major news. Iran has reached a red line that could easily trigger an Israeli strike. Yet The New York Times has buried its story on page 12, while The Washington Post has gone deeper still, at page 22.

Now the supposed justification for burying these stories would likely be that, despite the fact that 3,000 centrifuges can make a bomb in about a year, Iran needs to solve various technical problems before it can get those centrifuges working at nuclear-fuel-grade efficiency.  How long will it take Iran to do that? Nobody knows. But here’s how the Guardian puts it:

…UK officials are nervous about pressure from the US vice president Dick Cheney and other hawks for military action against Iran before a new administration takes office in January 2009. They emphasise that Iranian scientists could be months if not years away from getting the 3,000 centrifuges to function properly, at top speed, for a sustained period, and insist there is no imminent pressure for military intervention.

So let me get this straight. We are supposed to relax because, at worst, it may be mere months before Iran gets its 3,000 centrifuges up to nuclear-weapons speed? At least the Guardian is open and honest about the reasons for trying to minimize this disturbing news. And like the British officials trying to paper over the problem, the IAEA itself is trying to dsiguise the real news with bogus spin. Surprisingly, the Guardian is actually more honest than the American papers about the true nature and significance of the IAEA report:

David Albright, a former UN inspector and now an independent nuclear expert in Washington, said ElBaradei appeared to be trying to put “a happy face” on a worsening situation. “The main issue is that Iran now has 3,000 centrifuges,” he said.

Exactly. With 3,000 centrifuges up and working, with the Iranians making a ten-fold improvement in their capacity in just one year’s time, how secure can we feel when they could conceivably be only months away from bomb-level efficiency, and an additional 12-18 months away from actually producing enough fuel for their first bomb? It seems obvious that official claims by U.S. intelligence that Iran won’t have a bomb until 2015 are nonsense. It seems much more likely that Iran is about two-to-four years away from a bomb. And consider that the IAEA report makes it clear that Iran is blocking inspectors from gathering critical additional information. There may already be significant additional capabilities we don’t know about.

This confirmation of 3,000 Iranian centrifuges is a front-page story. There is simply no excuse for burying it, or for playing down its significance. The Washington Post story was written by Robin Wright, who has defended the placement of the Post’s earlier stories about the surge. In her story, Wright absurdly plays down the significance of an expert’s comment on the IAEA report. Wright introduces a quote from an expert by saying that he “took a middle ground” on Iran’s behavior. Actually, the expert says that the IAEA report “is wholly negative” then adds that Iran is “spitting in our face.”

Iran featured prominently in last night’s Democratic debate. It is already a huge issue in this election campaign. Direct confirmation that Iran now has 3,000 working centrifuges, even if not yet working at peak efficiency, is a major story. But the Post and Times alike have buried and downplayed this story, like the IAEA itself. And all because it gives credibility to the concerns of those nasty Republican hawks.