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Ferguson: Iran Making Substantial Nuclear Progress

Interviewee: Charles D. Ferguson
Interviewer: Lionel Beehner
May 18, 2007

Charles D. Ferguson, fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Iran “is much further along in its nuclear program than many experts were predicting.” The evidence stems from a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, which suggests that Tehran has made substantial progress in its uranium-enrichment activities. Ferguson says “there are still a lot of ifs” about Iran’s technical ability to enrich uranium. He argues that three-thousand is the “number to keep in mind”—the number of operational centrifuges necessary “to in principal [give Iran] the capability to make weapons-grade uranium within a year.”

“That’s the threshold we should try to prevent Iran from crossing,” he says, adding that Iran, which barring setback could have two-thousand centrifuges running by the start of summer, may be two-thirds of the way there.

Ferguson says Washington’s demand that Iran first suspend its enrichment activities as a precursor to direct negotiations “has been a futile effort.” Instead, he suggests a framework that emphasizes “shared responsibilities”—that is, Tehran must ensure its program is peaceful and maintain rigorous safeguards, while Washington must provide security assurances and back away from sanctions aimed at toppling the Iranian regime.

Finally, Ferguson maintains that Iran does not want to run afoul of international frameworks like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “Iran wants to appear to remain a responsible international player and responsible actors stay within their treaty commitments,” he says. “Iran probably wants to walk up to a latent capability to make nuclear bombs within the treaty and they don’t want to show their hand yet.”

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