The suggestion by Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defence Minister, that Iran has pulled back from the brink of its confrontation with the West over its nuclear programme is intriguing. In his interview with The Daily Telegraph today, Mr Barak argues that Iran’s decision to consign a proportion of its enriched uranium stockpile to civilian use has averted a crisis that could easily have led to Israel launching air strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. By converting its enriched uranium to fuel rods used for medical isotopes, Iran has helped to reassure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that its intentions are peaceful.
But that is only half the story. Iran still possesses significant quantities of enriched uranium, which could be used for a nuclear weapons programme. At a time when the Iranian economy is under severe pressure from the wide-ranging sanctions that have been imposed for Tehran’s non-compliance on nuclear matters, the ayatollahs may have decided to give themselves some breathing space by playing along with the IAEA’s demands, with the aim of returning to their nuclear weapons programme once the international pressure has eased.
But, as Mr Barak makes clear, that would be a grave miscalculation. The stand-off between Iran and the Western powers is unlikely to be resolved so long as Tehran fails to provide satisfactory guarantees that its remaining stockpiles of enriched uranium are for peaceful purposes, and not for making atomic bombs.