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What's the skinny on Iran's nuclear weapons program?

Don't Panic!... Your war questions answered

I swear, if it's not one Middle Eastern country whose name starts with the letters I-R-A causing trouble, it's the other. Enough already.

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Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (which has a job posting on its website for a bilingual isotope hydrologist willing to work for three years at its Vienna office, if you know one) adopted a resolution condemning Iran's refusal to cooperate fully with efforts to look into the country's nuclear program. The IAEA is trying to stop, or at least size up, Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

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In a lead-lined nutshell, the IAEA is pissed at Iran for fudging the deal the two of them made last year. Iran had promised to stop enriching uranium, to stop building enrichment centrifuges and to allow snap IAEA inspections of nuclear-related sites. In exchange, the IAEA promised to help Iran with an electricity-themed nuclear program.

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The IAEA says Iran went zero for three on the agreement. The country failed to allow timely inspections. They've continued to build centrifuges (which they promised to quit doing last year). And there's evidence that Iran has some uranium enriched well beyond the point necessary for peaceful production of electricity.

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To understand this better, you need to know just a little about how this atom-splitting stuff works. I'm no bilingual isotope hydrologist, but I'll do my best to explain.

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Uranium enrichment is an "Extreme Makeover"-like process that transforms dull, homely, natural uranium into one of two sexier variants — power-plant grade uranium and super-mega enriched weapons-grade uranium. An Iran capable of enriching uranium for power plants today (which is what they claim they're doing) is capable of flipping a few switches, installing a few widgets and turning out weapons-grade uranium tomorrow. That's why the IAEA and the rest of the sane world are hung up on thwarting the country's enrichment program.

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This confrontation dates back to mid-2002, when an exiled opponent of Iran's psycho-Islamic government named Alireza Jafarzadeh informed the world that Iran was hiding a uranium enrichment plant in the city of Natanz. Unlike the regime-hating exiles from that other I-R-A country (I'm talkin' to you, Chalabi!), Mr. Jafarzadeh was actually right.

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Confronted about its nuclear naughtiness, Iran says that, yes, it's got a nuclear program — but just for electricity. When you consider that Iran is among the world's largest exporters of petroleum and natural gas, and therefore has no need for nuclear energy, the excuse is about as plausible as a teenage boy saying, "But Mom, I keep those Playboy magazines for the articles."

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When the IAEA's resolution of condemnation for Iran was just a spell-check or two from release, Iran got extra bitchy. The country threatened to respond to the report by going ahead with its nuclear enrichment program, which you may recall from a couple of paragraphs back is exactly what the IAEA said the country was doing, anyway.

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Iran's foreign minister says that Iran joining the "nuclear club" (his words) is an irreversible process. In other words, "We're gonna do what we want and you're not gonna stop us." We're nuclear. We're here. Get used to it.

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Why is Iran so ballsy all of a sudden? Well, the country's unfair elections earlier this year strengthened the hairy hand (I'm Iranian myself, so trust me, they're hairy) of the super-wacko hardliners who enjoy confrontation with the West. Hey, it's easy to be reckless when you've got a herd of virgins roped and waiting for you in heaven, right?

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Also, in the wrestling match of international politics, Iran has the United States in a half nelson. Without our muscle, the IAEA's pronouncements lack force. Iran knows that Bush blew his wad in that other I-R-A country and consequently has neither the political capital nor the military resources to properly challenge Iran right now. Our No. 1 goal is stabilizing Iraq so that we can get the hell out ASAP.

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Iran knows that it can make that goal harder to achieve by encouraging and aiding insurgents in Iraq. And they know that we know that. And we know that they know that we know that. You get the idea.

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andisheh@creativeloafing.com



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