The Corner

National Security & Defense

NYT Belatedly Admits Obama Hasn’t Frozen Iran’s Nuclear Program

The New York Times reported in an article today that a new IAEA report indicates that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has increased by about 20 percent since the nuclear talks began in early 2014, “partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been ‘frozen’ during that period.”

The article says Western officials and experts can’t figure out why this is but cited two possibilities: Iran has run into technical problems that have kept it from converting some of its enriched uranium into uranium powder, or it is increasing its stockpile to give it an edge if the negotiations fail.

The authors of this article, David Sanger and William Broad, obviously do not read NRO. I wrote in NRO on January 21 about how President Obama lied when he claimed in his State of the Union address that “‘for the first time in a decade’ progress in the Iranian nuclear program has been halted and Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile has been reduced.” In fact, a succession of IAEA reports have said Iran’s production of enriched uranium has soared during the Obama administration and continued to rise since the nuclear talks began in early 2014. My January NRO piece included the below Center for Security Policy chart showing how Iran’s enriched increased from 2009 to 2014.

Based on the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program, a June 2015 update of this chart would show the blue line (total enriched uranium) rise to 14,411 kg and the red line (available enriched uranium) rise to 8,714 kg. Based on these figures, I believe Iran now has enough enriched uranium at the reactor-grade level to make at least nine nuclear weapons if this uranium were to be further enriched to weapons-grade.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler used the above chart in a January 22, 2015 Fact Checker column which awarded Obama three “Pinocchios” for his State of the Union claim that he had halted Iran’s nuclear program. (Since this statement was totally false, Kessler should have given the president five Pinocchios.) Investor’s Business Daily published this chart on March 13, 2015.

The Times article says Iran’s reactor-grade enriched-uranium stockpile was supposed to be converted into uranium oxide powder, a procedure it implies would make this uranium a less dangerous proliferation threat. However, this procedure can be reversed in about two weeks.

Some startling omissions by Sanger and Broad are more interesting than their belated revelation about Iran’s increasing stockpile of enriched uranium. They cited a claim by Iranian officials mentioned in a May 29, 2015 report analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington research group, that a delay in converting their enriched uranium into powder was because a conversion plant “did not work properly.” However, Sangar and Broad omitted several serious concerns raised in the same report about Iran’s nuclear program, including that Tehran may be trying to get the international community to allow it to have more centrifuges in a final nuclear agreement by manipulating the output of centrifuges it is currently operating to make them appear less efficient. The report also notes that Iran continues to refuse to answer questions about past and possibly ongoing work related to nuclear-weapons development.

The Sanger/Broad article makes other dubious claims about how President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran is working and how the world would be worse off without the nuclear talks. Overall, this piece is just the latest effort by the New York Times to run interference for the Obama administration’s failing foreign policy and explain away inconvenient facts about how Iran has routed the United States in the nuclear talks.

Fred Fleitz, president of the Center for Security Policy, served in 2018 as deputy assistant to the president and to the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He previously held national-security jobs with the CIA, the DIA, the Department of State, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is the editor of the 2020 book Defending against Biothreats.

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