The Corner

Why Iran’s Nuke Program Could Be Even Bigger than You Might Think

Early today, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler included a chart from my think tank, the Center for Security Policy, in a “Fact Checker” column that awarded President Obama three “Pinocchios” for making inaccurate statements about the Iran nuclear issue.

Kessler’s piece was a surprise to me because it’s basically unheard of for the mainstream media to cite data from conservatives on arms-control issues. A rival piece by PolitiFact cited the usual experts, who echoed the same inaccurate perception of Iran’s nuclear program and the nuclear talks presented by Mr. Obama on Tuesday.

When challenged today on Twitter about these contradictory pieces by a Democratic friend of mine, Kessler said:

While I don’t always agree with Kessler and I think he’s often too tough on Republicans, I believe he tries to be fair. It took guts for him to buck the Obama administration and the foreign-policy establishment by concluding the president’s statements on Iran in the SOTU were mostly untrue. Although I believe the president’s Iran statements were entirely untrue and deserve five “Pinocchios,” Mr. Kessler article is an important contribution to the current debate in Washington.

Kessler said two arms-control experts thought there were slight technical issues with the Center for Security Policy’s chart and cited comments from one of them, Ollie Heinonen, a former IAEA official who now teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.

The chart:

Kessler wrote the following about Heinonen’s reaction to it:

“This graph should say that material available (red) is UF6 [hexafluoride], which can be used as such for further enrichment, Heinonen said. “The rest (blue minus red), about 4 tons uranium in various chemical forms, can be reconverted to UF6. Iran has stated that it is not constructing  such a facility. If converted, the number of “bombs” would be higher.”

I was pleased that Kessler cited Mr. Heinonen since I consulted with him when I prepared this chart. Heinonen’s comments to Kessler reflect what he told me last November, that my figures understated the status of Iran’s nuclear program. I decided not to take Heinonen’s advice to increase the estimated output of Iran’s centrifuges because I wanted this assessment to be consistent with multiple experts and I was concerned we’d be accused of exaggerating the threat. 

That said, I believe Heinonen is right: Iran probably can make more than eight nuclear weapons – possibly as many as 11 – from the uranium it has enriched since 2009. 

— Fred Fleitz followed the Iranian nuclear program for the CIA, State Department, and House Intelligence Committee. He is now a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz

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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