Council on Foreign Relations
New York, NY
RICHARD HAASS (president, Council on Foreign Relations): Well, good morning, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. And welcome to our symposium on Iran, and in particular Iran's nuclear program and, at the end, what to do about it.
This session has three parts, and it's been laid out with some care. The first panel, which is arrayed behind me in all of its splendor, is going to look at what you might call the nuclear and technical side of the equation.
As the old saw goes, everyone's entitled to his own set of facts; not everyone's entitled to his own set of opinions. So what we're trying to in this first session is lay out some of the facts, as best we know them, and to bound the uncertainties, to at least inform and structure the conversation.
The second panel, which is related to this but is different, that will deal with a slightly less precise question, will try to assess Iran's political calculation. What's motivating Iran? What's the internal debate? Essentially, if the first panel is the nuclear and technical side looking at Iran, the second panel is on the political side, so we understand essentially what is motivating this. What might its purposes be, and so forth.
The third session, which I'll moderate, takes place in the aftermath of calories at lunch, and that will be a session essentially prescriptively. Given this technical backdrop, given this political backdrop, what is the range of options facing the United States and the international community? What are the pros and cons of various policy choices or packages of policy choices?
And so that is essentially how the day is meant to go. The morning, as a result, is more descriptive and analytical, and the midday is more prescriptive.
We've got, I think, an amazing set of resources up here today to benefit from, beginning with this first panel. And I'll let Carla Robbins, herself a considerable resource, to introduce those. The introductions today will be short because you've got everybody's bio in your package.
I would like, though, to single out one person, who is Mahmood Sariolghalam, who will be in the second panel, simply to thank him. Some of us commuted from the Upper East Side. Some commuted from Washington, D.C. But those who commute from Teheran get special thanks, and Mahmood earns our thanks for traveling all this way.
Let me also, while I'm in the business of thanking people, thank one institution and two individuals. The institution is the Carnegie Corporation, and the two individuals are Mark Fisch and Marty Gross, all of whom had the imagination and then were willing to match their imagination with commitment to help make this possible.
My last statement is to simply say, when I look at the American foreign policy plate right now and I look at the agenda, I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when there were more difficult, discrete issues on the agenda. It is as challenging as it gets.
That said, even within that context, it's hard to think of a set of issues that's more challenging right now than this one. And as I look at the last thousand days, plus or minus, of this administration, this issue will clearly be towards the top of their charts, probably along with Iraq and perhaps very few other issues in terms of an issue or challenge that absorbs the resources, in every sense of the word, of the upper echelons of this administration.
And clearly how this plays out will have enormous consequences, not simply for Iraq, not simply for the region, but for questions about proliferation, for questions about energy, for the U.S. and global economy and so forth. Indeed, it's difficult to think of a significant international issue which will ultimately not be affected one way or another by how this issue is ultimately resolved.
So with that, let me thank you all for your interest. We've also -- one last thing -- structured today so there are breaks, not simply to answer nature's calls, but also for people the chance to talk informally. So there will be breaks between the various sessions.
I hope you can stay for all of the day. We promise to get you out of here by early afternoon. But over the next five, five and a half hours, we believe that we will be able to provide a venue for concerted, focused analysis and then debate about, again, what I believe is one of the most difficult questions I've seen come our way in quite some time.
So with that, Carla, over to you and the three gentlemen surrounding you. Thank you very much.
CARLA ANNE ROBBINS: Thank you, Dr. Haass -- Ambassador Haass -- President Haass.
HAASS: "Your Excellency" will do.
ROBBINS: Welcome to the geek panel, and that includes me. This is a great idea. I spend most of my day worrying about Iran, and so should you. And I think it's particularly well-organized that we start with the panel that asks questions which may not have complete answers, that basically says, "What do we think the Iranians have, and what can they do with it, and how much time do we have to worry about it before it becomes a real nuclear weapon?" And that's basically what we're going to do today.
I have three wonderful friends and colleagues here who know a lot about this. And you have their bios, but to my right -- and when you're to the right of the Wall Street Journal, you know you're in trouble -- (laughter) -- is Mark Fitzpatrick, who's a senior fellow for nonproliferation at IISS in London -- not as far as Teheran, but still quite a distance to come -- and a former senior nonproliferation expert who never talked to me when he was in government.
To my left, intentionally, is Charlie Ferguson, who is a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. And to his left is Dan Poneman, a senior fellow for the Forum for International Policy, a member of the Scowcroft Group, a former senior nonproliferation expert in the White House, who never talked to me, and speaks lovely Spanish.
So that's what we're going to do. I have a list of things I have to say here if they want to invite me back. I have to tell you to remember to turn off your cell phones, your BlackBerrys and all wireless devices. And I would also like to remind the audience that this Council meeting is on the record, and participants around the nation and the world are viewing this meeting by a live webcast on the Council's web site, which is www.cfr.org.
What we are going to do here is have a conversation for about half an hour among ourselves, and then we're going to throw it open to you guys to ask questions. And we will do that, we hope, in an entertaining and enlivened way, which means nobody's going to have an opening statement. We're going to go right to the questions.
Let me -- and I'm not going to have an opening statement -- but let me just lay out one fundamental idea. This is what we refer to as the "B" matter in newspapers. I have almost a function key on my computer in which I explain this, but for those of you who don't read beyond the jump on my stories, I think I will tell you the very fundamental notion that if you want to build a nuclear weapon or if you want to fuel a nuclear reactor, you basically have two choices.
Mainly what you have is enriched uranium. Some people can also build nuclear weapons -- you can build nuclear weapons more efficiently with plutonium, and some people also see that as a future way of fueling nuclear reactors. But you basically have two routes.
What the Iranians are mainly doing at this point is trying to produce enriched uranium. They claim it's going to be low-enriched uranium, which means less processing of uranium gas in centrifuges to product nuclear fuel for the one nuclear reactor they currently have that's almost completed that the Russians have built them in Bushehr, and for what they say is going to be an extensive nuclear power program in the future.
They claim that that's all they're trying to do, that that's why they produced uranium gas, something we call UF-6, uranium hexafluoride, and that that's why they want to begin to produce, to open up this Natanz plant they have, which is eventually supposed to have 50,000 centrifuges, which they claim will only be to produce low-enriched uranium for fuel.
The problem with nuclear technology is that the same thing that can make you fuel can also make you the core of a nuclear weapon. And the entire conflict that we currently have at this moment is, what are the Iranians up to? How far are we going to let them go down this road? And do they have a right that they claim to produce fuel that the United States and its European allies and many other countries around the world increasingly suspect is intended actually to produce the core of a nuclear weapon?
The current crisis came about after these long negotiations, pointless -- fruitless if not pointless negotiations with the Europeans, when the Iranians decided to reopen their uranium hexafluoride plant in Isfahan and produce this gas, which the U.S. and its allies decided to let them do by not drawing a red line there, even though it was a red line.
But the real crisis, the confrontation we're having right now, came when they decided to cut the seals, which they had a legal right to, and reopen the Natanz plant and begin to put together cascades -- a small number of them to begin with, but ultimately their goal is 50,000 -- to start enriching uranium. And that's where the game is at this point.
A lot of questions about what they're doing inside Natanz right now with this enrichment plant, how far along they've gotten. And it really does matter. It's not just geek stuff. It matters because it gives you a sense of how much time the diplomacy can be allowed to go on. If you look at how long things are taking at the U.N. Security Council, that's one time line. And then you have the other question, which is how technically competent are the Iranians? How long is it going to take them to make enriched fuel, either for their peaceful nuclear program or potentially for a nuclear weapon? So that's sort of the game as it stands right now.
Over to Mark. What do we think they're up to at this point? How far have they gotten? And what does it tell us about their technical competence and how much longer the diplomacy can go on, by comparison?
MARK FITZPATRICK: Yeah. Iran is trying to establish new facts on the ground. There's a couple or different time lines to keep in mind. The time line of most intense discussion is how long before Iran is able to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon? And you see estimates from three to 10 years. I think all of those are within the range of issue, because we just don't know. The IAEA knows a lot.
Iran itself probably doesn't know, because they don't know how well their machines are going to work, how efficient they're going to be and so forth. But at least Iran knows their intentions, and we all have a pretty good idea of their intentions.
And then there's this other time line of how long before they actually can master the enrichment process. And that's important, because until now, the diplomatic strategy of the Europeans has been to buy time, one day at a time if need be. Just keep Iran suspended where they are. And as long as they can't enrich uranium, they can't build a bomb.
But if they get to the point where they can enrich uranium -- they've mastered that technology -- then all bets are off. And even though you might have tight inspections around the machines that they have, if they get the knowledge in their head, they could do it somewhere else clandestinely.
So how far are they toward mastering this technology? And about a month ago, I thought it was a matter of six to 10 months at a minimum, but now that time line seems to have been shortened. Iran is moving more quickly. They got one centrifuge up and running back in January. They got 20 of them hooked together in a cascade at the beginning of March. And then I thought it would be at least two months before they took the next jump to the larger module of 164 centrifuges linked together, the basic module; at least two months, probably more four to six months. Well, they went in two weeks to that 164-centrifuge module.
They skipped a lot of steps along the way, a lot of the testing steps. So in the long run, maybe they went too quickly. Maybe it'll slow them down. Maybe haste makes waste. But you can't underestimate them either. I mean, we underestimated them, I think, back when they were working on this uranium hexafluoride production plant, the gasified uranium. We thought it was too contaminated with molybdenum and other heavy metals.
But it turns out we were probably wrong about that. Iran probably could make better gasified uranium than we thought. So I wouldn't underestimate. Maybe they can move more quickly. So maybe the time line to this mastery of the enrichment process is a matter of a few months. Maybe it's four to 10 months from now, or maybe even shorter. And so does that give the United Nations enough time is a way of looking at this.
ROBBINS: You know, one of the things -- and Charlie, I wanted to raise it -- when we talk about skipping a phase, one of the things that's really sort of grabbed my interest -- and Mark referred to it -- is this question of the UF-6 gas. One of the ways the Iranians seem to be handling it is -- and maybe because they're really good at the bizarre -- is that they keep saying, "Well, we're going to do this," and the international community decides whether or not they're going to make a crisis over them, then they're going to go to the next step.
The thing that the U.S. and its allies decided not to make a big deal about was allowing them to produce this uranium hexafluoride to begin with. They said that didn't need to be a red line. They produce, I suppose, more -- 70 metric tons already or more of uranium hexafluoride. They apparently have put it into tunnels around the Isfahan plant, making it harder to get at.
But the conventional wisdom was that the stuff wasn't very good, that it was contaminated with molybdenum and other heavy metals itself, and that the belief on the centrifuges was that if they ran the centrifuges with this gas that they already had, that it would destroy them, which would slow them down once again considerably.
Now, what they seem to be doing -- and when Mark talked about skipping a step, originally -- the thing about centrifuges is that they turn really, really, really fast, and it's really hard to control the vibration. And when you put a bunch of them together, they crash is what happens. If you haven't built them correctly and if they're not balanced correctly, this is supposed to be a really, really hard thing to learn how to do. So the betting was, as Mark said, they were going to have a few centrifuges. They were going to test them with inert gas at the beginning.
What they've done skipping phases is that they are using UF-6 to start. It apparently is the good clean UF-6 that they bought from the Chinese, illegally. And what it tells us -- what does it tell us? Does it tell us that they're reckless? Does it tell us that they've got more UF-6? Does it tell us that the UF-6 that they've hidden is a better quality?
This has really grabbed my attention, because either they're -- it seems they're either trying to (brazen?) it out with us, and they don't know what they're doing but they're once again trying to go to the next step, creating -- (inaudible) -- on the ground, but maybe they have a lot better scientists than we ever realized. I mean, how do you look at that?
CHARLES FERGUSON: I think, Carla, you pointed out all the kind of questions we need to ask. I think it's important from the outset here to point out there's a lot of uncertainty. And we really don't know, but we can kind of explore the options you've outlined and try to think which ones seem most plausible.
Before I do that, though, I want to kind of reiterate and amplify something that Mark said about creating new facts on the ground, creating a new reality. On the plane ride up here, I was reading Rowhani's speech. Rowhani is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Council. He's one of their top leaders on this issue. He gave a speech last year. And right at the beginning of the speech, he's acknowledged that a country that possesses the nuclear fuel cycle has essentially breakout capability for nuclear weapons.
But then he hastened, right after saying that -- in the same sentence he said, "if a country has the political will to do so." And he made it clear throughout his speech that "All along we've said we don't want nuclear weapons; we don't want nuclear weapons." But he acknowledges, right at the beginning of the speech, if they get that capability, they essentially have the -- (inaudible) -- essentially have the capability to make nuclear weapons. So make sure that they're very much aware of this.
And so you get to this technical question about the UF-6 gas and what do they have and how clean is it. Does it really matter if it's contaminated? And I think, you know, they could try to move kind of on parallel tracks, and I think they're trying to do that. You have the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan. That's where they're taking uranium yellow cake -- this is the stuff that's been -- you mine uranium ore out of the ground. You crush it. You mill it. You get all this yellowy-colored stuff you call yellow cake. Then you turn that into uranium tetrafluoride, UF-4. This is a green color, a green salt.
Those of you who have been following this kind of closely in the newspapers may have heard about the Green Salt Project. And we need to get to the bottom of what the Green Salt Project is about. The code name refers to uranium tetrafluoride, UF-4, and there is the fear here in the West that they have a hidden program that may be under the control of the Iranian military that's trying to do this conversion process, perhaps outside of Isfahan, in parallel.
So there's not a lot of solid evidence that that's going on, but the IAEA is trying to investigate whether that exists or not. So that could be one way of kind of jumping over some of these technical problems they're experiencing in the conversion process.
But, you know, the question is, how much clean UF-6 do they have? How much dirty stuff do they have? Is it so dirty that it's going to wreck these centrifuges? I think they're probably trying to use as much clean stuff as they can at this stage, just trying to prove the concept that they can inject uranium hexafluoride into centrifuges, see if they work, work with this rather small 20-centrifuge cascade at this point, scale it up to 164-centrifuge cascade, and then try to scale it up to cascades involving thousands of centrifuges. And I think in parallel they're going to keep trying to forge ahead as quickly as they can in trying to clean up the dirty UF-6 they have.
DANIEL PONEMAN: Could I just add a point on that? I think one very important answer to your question, Carla, is that we don't know. The Iranians could be doing many things, and I think a certain dose of humility about all of this discussion is very much in order. And I think, that having been said, you do have to look at a number of time lines.
When we talk about creating facts on the ground, there are technical facts and there are political facts. And I will now engage in the speculation we're all engaging in to say that if they are using this and it seems premature and it seems that it would be dangerous in terms of maintaining the capability of their centrifuges that they are, in fact, building to run contaminated material through it, perhaps they are using up that higher-quality material to create political facts on the ground, to inure the rest of the world to the fact that "We're doing this now. You might as well get used to it. You got used to it with North Korea," and to weaken the will of people who are trying to negotiate methods to stop them from doing any of this by saying, "Hey, sorry, we're already past that post."
At the same time, I do not know that whatever they're doing in this small cascade with this relatively clean UF-6 disrupts the technical time line. And there, I do think that there's a decent amount of consensus out there in the community, with one caveat, which I'll come to in a second.
Whether Iran takes the pieces and parts of centrifuges they've already assembled and gets more and tries to build a clandestine facility outside of Natanz, beyond the view of any inspections that we have under either regular or additional protocol access, and, in fact, starts from scratch to create enough highly-enriched uranium to build a bomb, I think most people figure it would take them, from start to finish, building the centrifuges, encasing them in a plant, doing the cold tests, running the hot tests, running the cascades long enough to get 25 to 30 kilograms, or 15 to 20, depending on how you aggressive you want to be in your design estimates that you'd need of highly-enriched uranium for one bomb, it's going to take about three years.
Now, if you straight-line this much larger-known facility for uranium enrichment at Natanz, where they said in the last quarter of 2006 they're going to start building this 3,000-centrifuge cascade, and if they complete the construction of that and the facility that encases it, run the cold tests, and try to produce 90 percent pure highly-enriched uranium, it again will take them about three years. That's if things go very well. And, of course, things don't always go very well.
So I think you have to keep in mind that you have that kind of touchstone that most people, I think, in the community -- when I say the community, I mean among governments -- I don't think there's that much disagreement anymore over those general time lines, but there is an earlier time line in which I believe, from a political perspective, the Iranians feel, in a relatively robust moment, they are witnessing a United States that is very much tied down in Iraq.
And it's very difficult, I think, and it has been difficult, as we've all read in the newspapers, for us to muster the political will, in the U.N. Security Council or elsewhere, to truly confront the Iranians. And the test case, the first test case, was, in fact, the opening of this uranium conversion plant that we're talking about that takes this material and turns it into the gas that you put into the centrifuge machines. And it is true that the world blinked when Iran took that step.
So my sense is that Iran is pressing ahead on the political front as quickly as they think the traffic will bear. And even after the U.N. Security Council was given the issue by the International Atomic Energy Agency when that resolution passed in early February to send this matter to the U.N. Security Council, it's still been very difficult for the United States to persuade, for example, the Russians and the Chinese to go along with our diplomacy. So I think you have to keep both time lines in perspective.
ROBBINS: Let me ask a question which goes off of that, which is, there's a growing sense among some of the people who do what we do that why not just give them a pilot plant? I mean, it's a small plant. It's going to take them years to get enough -- 15, 20, 25 kilos of HEU, potentially. And it's going to be monitored. They've offered to have it be monitored by the IAEA, and that even the Iranians themselves have said, "Our scientists or your scientists will come up with some technology that makes it impossible to produce HEU, and they'll just be LEU centrifuges," which I don't think actually exist. But they're saying, "Why can't we do this? We have a legal right to do it. And everybody's going to be watching."
So why get yourself into a situation in which you have to make a choice about whether you've got a military option or have another crisis in the midst of the Iraq war or destroy American credibility overseas? Why not just let them run their own pilot plant with the IAEA watching closely? What's wrong with that? Why are you people looking for another crisis?
FITZPATRICK: You know, the short answer to that is because having the enrichment knowledge is like you can't be a little bit pregnant. If you know how to do it, it's very hard to have any assurance, as an international community, that they would stop there. They could replicate it somewhere else. Iran's a big country. And even if you had the most intrusive IAEA inspections that could be devised, you wouldn't have 100 percent assurance that they were keeping it to the pilot plant.
That said, though, it's the wrong verb -- and I think you corrected yourself later on -- to say giving them -- you know, they've got enrichment. And it's a matter of can you roll them back from a stage that they've already got? And I think that's really what they're trying to do. You know, your question about why did they skip running the 20 centrifuges with inert gas they used to clean UF-6, because they're trying to establish these new facts on the ground so that, if they do get a point in negotiations where they have to suspend again, they'll be suspending from a different level. And we, of course, would like to roll them back to have no enrichment at all.
But I was thinking about the North Korean situation. Dan's the expert on that. But eight years of Clinton, five and a half years of the Bush administration, didn't result in a single machine in North Korea being dismantled. It was always the best ever could be done was to get it frozen. And that, I think, might be the situation we're going to be at in Iran very quickly, that they have this enrichment capability.
And then what? What do we do? Sure, we want to roll them back. But maybe -- and that's why these other options have been put forward. "Well, allow them to have a pilot plant, the smallest possible, tightly monitored if possible." You wouldn't have 100 percent assurance. Maybe there's some technological solutions. You'd have self-destructive bearings on the centrifuges. If they stopped and were reconfigured to produce highly-enriched uranium, they'd be destroyed.
I mean, these technological solutions are within the realm of some of the people in the audience to come up with. But I don't think these solutions are going to be the solution, because Iran wants it for nuclear weapons. And so that's really the answer to your question is any technological solution doesn't get to that -- how do you change Iran's goal of mastering this for a weapons purpose?
ROBBINS: So the know-how issue -- and I was in a forum yesterday at Yale, and the Iranian ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador Zarif, was speaking by hookup because he wasn't allowed by the State Department to go to New Haven, which I suppose is actually an advantage for him. (Laughter.)
He said one thing -- he said many things that are intriguing. He's a very smart guy. But one of the things that he felt was quite intriguing -- he was very smooth and basically putting all the criticism on the Bush administration for, you know, being a Luddite with treaties around the world and doing terrible things in Iraq and is trying to deny Iran its rights.
But one of the things he said was, "You know, we made a great effort to acquire this technology and to reverse-engineer it," which was quite an intriguing moment of admission. And he said, "You know, you can take all the machines we have and you can put them on a ship and you can take them out of here, but you can't take it out of our minds." It's the most overt thing I've heard an Iranian official say in a very long time, and intriguing, particularly coming out of Zarif, who is an incredibly competent and very smooth diplomat.
So that seems to be sort of the argument is that they seem to be getting very close to having this thing in their minds. And to my mind, it's not completely lack of a concern, the idea that there is a parallel covert program; maybe not there yet, but much of what the IAEA has been investigating has been this question of do they have hidden centrifuges.
What were they acquiring overseas? They got plans from the Khan network for much more sophisticated centrifuges, which they claim they just sat on for years and then some guy -- you know, they finally gave him at the last minute a contract and he was asking for thousands of ring magnets, but, you know, that was actually for his blender or something like that.
And so you can see this sort of shadow potential of a parallel program, which to my mind, you know, seems to be a pretty persuasive argument why you don't want to allow them to get the next thing in their mind.
Nevertheless, is it too late?
FITZPATRICK: I think we should take him up on his offer to give us the centrifuge. (Laughter.)
ROBBINS: Is it too late? Or are you a believer in give them the pilot plan?
FERGUSON: Well, not just giving it to them. It could be -- I think Mark and I are in some agreement here that we might not have any control over this matter. Now, how much control do we really have here? They're going to be forging ahead with this pilot plant anyway. So maybe we can create some kind of cooperative venture where we say, "Okay, we acknowledge you're going to be doing some low level of enrichment.
So can you then allow us to come in, work with you, put in these objective guarantees you keep talking about," because Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, who I'd met last year in Copenhagen -- very nice man, but you know, he's out of it; that they're going to move ahead with this technology, there's no turning it back.
There's a good interview with him published in Arms Control Today just last month. I really recommend you read that. And he keeps talking about objective guarantees. So what do they mean by this? And so my objective guarantee would be they sign the Additional Protocol. They work with --
ROBBINS: Additional Protocol -- snap inspections, allegedly you can go anywhere you want in the country, but not as intensive an inspection regime as took place after the Gulf War in Iraq. You can --
FERGUSON: Right. And this came out of the Gulf War in 1991. When we went in after that first Gulf War, we said, oh my God, you know, Saddam was getting pretty close to making a bomb. And so we needed to pass more rigorous nuclear safeguards, and so that led to -- here's some more jargon -- 93 plus two in the IAEA --
ROBBINS: Stop, stop!
FERGUSON: Yeah. (Chuckles.)
ROBBINS: Okay, go on --
FERGUSON: It was actually -- the upshot was that we developed a more rigorous safeguard system, but it's not perfect. And so what we need is not just Iran to ratify this so-called Additional Protocol, but also go beyond the Additional Protocol. Give us special inspection rights. And those special inspection authority is in the IAEA charter. And we've only used special inspections, technically, twice -- once voluntarily with Romania back in 1992 to clear up some issues with the Ceausescu regime; and then in 1992 and '93, we used that special inspection --
FITZPATRICK: Tried to use it.
FERGUSON: What's that?
FITZPATRICK: Tried to use it.
FERGUSON: Tried to use it -- with North Korea, that's right. We tried to use it, that's right. And that was not a voluntary application of the special inspections; North Koreans were very resistant.
ROBBINS: So wait --
ROBBINS: So basically your proposal is, they've already got the knowledge. It's unlikely --
FERGUSON: You got to roll that back, yeah.
ROBBINS: -- the international community is going to, you know, wean them of a small pilot plant. So give them a small pilot plant, but -- do not punish them for a small pilot plant, okay. But in exchange for that, the Iranians have to agree to hyper-intrusive inspections all over the country.
FERGUSON: That's right, right. And I think we can put in place some technological measures to try to get better confidence of what types of uranium they're actually enriching in these plants.
I was just at one of our nation's national labs just a few weeks ago talking to some of our scientists. I posed this question to them: I said, do we have the technology where we can monitor an enrichment plant so we know on the individual centrifuge level how much enriched uranium is in there? And one of the scientists said, yes, we've got the concept. We've been thinking about this. And I said, but do we have the money to do it? And I said -- well, he said, so far, our government hasn't put forth the money, hasn't invested in developing those types of technologies fully.
And so my proposal is that we could Iran as some type of test bed to develop more proliferation-resistant technologies. It's not going to be foolproof -- nothing is proliferation-proof -- but I think we can make these technologies more and more proliferation resistant.
ROBBINS: Dan, you are shaking your head.
DANIEL PONEMAN: Well, as I used to say in government, there's always time to capitulate later. (Laughter.) I would not capitulate now, in the sense of allowing this pilot facility, on a number of grounds.
Number one, what I think both -- what you've all said is true; just they've got the knowledge. They've probably already passed the so-called point of no return in terms of having mastery of the technology, and that is truly intrinsically dangerous. Point one.
Point two, how small is this pilot facility? And if they could be producing bombs from this pilot facility, it doesn't make me feel very secure.
But point three, I think lurking in this whole proposal is a flawed premise, which Carla briefly touched on in presenting this question, which is they have a right to this technology. They don't. It distressed me that during the last presidential campaign, virtually the only issue on which the two candidates agreed was that there is this hole -- this flaw -- in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which gives some inalienable right to these technologies that you can use to build bombs. It is true that the Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Those words are in the treaty: "for peaceful purposes."
You will also note the name of the treaty is the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the front end of the treaty, the Articles I and II, say you can't have nuclear weapons. It cannot be that Article IV, with the peaceful access right, trumps the purpose of the treaty and the fundamental premises in the first two articles.
And therefore, I'd go to Iran and say, no, you do not have a right to these initial cascades. You don't have a right to this pilot-level activity. Why not? Because you've had 18 years of a clandestine program, hidden from the eyes of the world. You have pursued -- we've been talking all about enrichment technologies. You've pursued those. You are building a heavy-water reactor, which is a reactor which goes the other route by taking the uranium 238 and allowing the neutrons to bombard it and turn that 238 into 239 plutonium, which is the other bomb fuel. You've separated some of that plutonium. You're doing the conversion. You've lied to the IAEA. You're still not cooperating with the IAEA. The burden of proof is now on you to establish why -- not withstanding what I think is overwhelming evidence they are going down a bomb track -- that you believe that this is a so-called peaceful program and, therefore, entitles you under Article IV to this technology.
So I think we've got a very -- if we could work together with our partners -- a strong case to say they really don't have a right to that technology. And since it's so damaging to give them that right, I wouldn't do it now. If things proceed along different tracks later on, we can consider other options, but I wouldn't get there yet.
ROBBINS: Let's -- before we open up, we only have a few minutes -- I did want to pose one more question here, which is, okay, two, three years, depending on -- maybe they're even better at doing it fast, maybe they've got more centrifuges already there to -- because that's part of the delay on this question of how long it would take them to produce enough for one weapon. Okay, so you've got your 25 kilos of HEU; that doesn't mean you have a bomb.
So how long does it take and how much time to worry about -- you know, we're not saying that they're going to do these things in a series; we assume that they'll be developing them in parallel, potentially. There has been reporting, including in The Wall Street Journal -- in fact, first in The Wall Street Journal -- about this laptop that was found that showed that they had been testing and developing a program --
PONEMAN: Had been developing, not testing necessarily.
ROBBINS: Developing a program and designs for a -- to adapt the Shahab-3 missile to deliver a black box -- never got to see inside the black box in this data, but a block box that had a shape and a weight and a blast type that, to the labs, looked like it was potentially -- quite seriously potentially -- a nuclear warhead that was inside the black box. We know that they dealt with the Khan network, that they potentially could have gotten some designs, although this actual black box is smaller than the Chinese design that they delivered to the Libyans. What do we know, if anything, about the parallel -- potential parallel bomb program, and how long does it take to make a bomb if you've got the HEU?
FITZPATRICK: You know, the general assumption is that the harder process is to get enough HEU. And if you can master that process, you could figure out how to weaponize it. But the knowledge about weaponizing is still very highly classified. So it's hard to talk about openly, even if you knew it, and I've forgotten what I knew about it. So I'll talk as much as I can.
You know, back in the -- when the Iraq program was investigated, Iraq experienced a lot of problems in the weaponization. They were still, I think, at least a few years away from being able to master the art of getting all the lens perfectly around the implosion device so they all fire at once. They did not master the ignition in the core.
But that all said, I think -- I still think if they get the HEU, we have to assume that they've done the weaponization because there are so many signs of a military involvement in this. I mean, you mentioned the Green Salt Project and the laptop with the designs, at least, of what sure looks like a bomb. And you know, was it just people doing this in the expectation that they should work on it in case they're called upon? There's no evidence they operationalized it --
ROBBINS: Extra credit is what you're saying?
FITZPATRICK: Yeah, extra credit. I mean, well -- (chuckles) -- I hope our Pentagon are doing extra credit kinds of things like that.
There was military involvement from the very beginning of the uranium fuel cycle in the mining. What was the military doing involved in the management of the Gchine mine? What was the military doing with the uranium conversion -- the Green Salt and this potential for another uranium conversion factory? So there are so many signs of military involvement. And the polonium 210 experiments that, yeah, they could be for batteries for a space program, if Iran had a space program -- extra credit, they're on the 20 years from when they have it. The polonium 210 is for initiators for a nuclear weapon.
So I think it would be nice if -- I think it would be nice of the IAEA was also able to investigate the weaponization. They don't have a mandate to do it. Some of their inspectors are trying to be aggressive in pursuing it, and I hope they're as aggressive as they can be.
FERGUSON: Carla, just for the space program thing, yesterday in The New York Times it was reported that Russia apparently launched -- sorry, it's a rival paper -- (laughter) -- but give them credit -- that Russia apparently launched last October a small Iranian satellite. And they didn't talk about polonium 210 batteries for the satellite, but at least now Iran can point to having at least some small space program. So previously, when Mr. Bolton was talking about, oh, come on; it's ludicrous that they're, you know, investigating -- their reason for polonium 210 experiments is to develop, you know, batteries for satellites, now they can say, yes, we do have a satellite program.
ROBBINS: Except it was built by the Russians, the satellite. Oh well.
FERGUSON: Well, but they're trying -- you know, as with --
PONEMAN: Batteries included.
FERGUSON: Right, batteries included but they're not supplying the polonium 210. (Laughter.)
ROBBINS: Very good, Dan.
PONEMAN: Just a thought. Now, on the bomb design question, and my sense -- as I'm only a geek by osmosis, not by training, right? -- is that as Mark has indicated, that the long pole in the tent is getting enough fissile material for a bomb.
Let's also distinguish between the plutonium and the uranium path to a bomb. With a plutonium path, because of the nature of the materials -- which somebody here, I'm sure, could explain -- you have to have a very sophisticated so-called implosion device that Mark was talking about where you have to have simultaneous firings around the sphere; very, very tough problem I think Stanislav Ulam solved in the Manhattan Project. But uranium is a much more forgiving bomb material, okay?
So you can get away in an HEU -- highly enriched uranium bomb -- with a so-called gun device, where you have a catcher's mitt of HEU here at one end of the bomb casing and a baseball at the other end here. And you fire them together like that and you get a nuclear explosion. And just to put this in a little perspective, the first HEU bomb was untested. It was Hiroshima. That was an HEU bomb. The Alamogordo test in July of 1945, that was an implosion device. That's the hard one.
So I think we have to assume that if they have the HEU, they're going to have the ability to make the bomb. And that's where the caveat that I promised comes in, because I fear in many of these discussions we're like the drunk looking for his keys under the lamp post because in Russia there are hundreds and hundreds of tons -- tons -- of highly enriched uranium. We've been working very hard for over a decade to secure those amounts. We don't have it all. Indeed, I would submit to you I don't think the Russians know where all of it is, okay?
So while we're talking about Iran doing this mini-Manhattan Project, it is possible they could obtain the HEU from elsewhere. And then all these timelines go out the window and you're down to the, let's just say, several months timeline that I think would be required to build an HEU bomb.
ROBBINS: And with that happy thought, we're going to move to the Q&A part of the session. I've got to read my -- for the opening of Q&A session. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation. And please limit yourself to one question and keep it concise to allow as many members as possible to speak.
So aren't there any women out there? (Laughter.) Ah, a woman.
QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm Nancy Bird from the Council on Foreign Relations.
I'd like to go back to Dan Poneman's point about the NPT and exactly what Iran can get away with under the treaty, maybe hear from some of the other panelists about what you think about this. Is there really a loophole that does allow them to continue development?
PONEMAN: I've said my piece, so --
FITZPATRICK: Well, I'll comment on Dan's point. I mean, I think he's exactly right. Iran does not have a right to enrichment when they violated their obligations under the NPT. But talking about rights is a political loser in the rest of the world because every other member state of the United Nations, particularly from the non-aligned movement, starts thinking about their own rights and what's going to be infringed upon.
So I just -- I agree with Dan, but I don't think talking about rights is the way to win the minds and hearts of the rest of the world to put pressure on Iran. Talk about them postponing/foregoing the implementation of those rights. I mean, there are 30-odd countries in the world today that have nuclear power plants, you know, all of whom do more nuclear -- produce more nuclear energy that Iran produces. A third of them -- only a third of them have enrichment. The other two-thirds have foregone their rights. They don't implement them.
So that's the key, I think, to Iran, is to -- telling them, no, it's not about your rights. Okay, we won't talk about rights, but we'll just talk about, you know, what you have to do to regain the confidence of the international community -- it's to forego the enrichment.
ROBBINS: You know, the Bush administration, which is -- has not had a particularly stellar nonproliferation record and certainly not on the question of treaties -- President Bush gave a very, very good speech at the National Defense University in February --
FERGUSON: February of 2004.
ROBBINS: -- of 2004.
ROBBINS: And he had a -- he had a big idea. And the big idea was, let's stop the merry-go-round right now. If you don't have enrichment for plutonium separation capability, you don't need it, and we'll just stop it right now. Now he grandfathers the Japanese in who are going to open a plant that's going to separate nine metric tons of plutonium a year, and he was going to grandfather Brazilians in, and they -- you know, this -- really they tried to keep the IAEA away from their enrichment technology in the first place, and there's a little nervousness about that. But it was a good idea, to my mind.
The problem was that they didn't work on the other end, which is the guarantee of fuel, and to tell countries that there would be, that there would be no political pressure; that the U.S. couldn't go and say to suppliers, don't supply, that the Russians wouldn't play games the way they have with the Ukrainians about gas itself. There hasn't been this -- the comparable push to come up with a big scheme. There's been some talk about it, but no push.
And so there's a rights issue, and it is true that the non-aligned movement is always going to insist on as many rights as possible, and that's why they have so many problems with the IAEA, and they're going to have so many problems with the U.N. But nobody has really done anything aggressive to come up with a really interesting scheme that would guarantee everybody the fuel that they want.
Now, Ambassador Zarif said last night, and the Iranians have said it before, which is they like the idea that the Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA has suggested, the idea of regional fuel centers, and they'd like to have the first one built in Iran. (Laughter.)
FERGUSON: Of course. (Laughter.)
ROBBINS: So there you have it. Next question?
PONEMAN: Carla, could I just comment on that? Because I think it raises a very interesting point.
Just a footnote on the rights issue. My biggest argument is that when Iran comes up boasting and preaching about rights, that we not all go cringing and creeping and crawling away, which we have been doing.
I take the generic aspect of Mark's point about preaching rights is not usually a politically winsome strategy. That having been said, Carla, if you take the president's February 2004 proposal on confining enrichment to the countries that now are exercising it, in my view, ironically, the problem with that proposal as it was then expressed was it was filled with thou-shalt-nots and it didn't have the upside.
However, last month the Bush administration came up with another proposal under the rubric of the so-called Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. There is an explicit part of that proposal which talks about providing reliable assurances of supply for those countries that voluntarily forswear enrichment.
And in my view the way this proposal actually could become implemented is if you took a page out of the book of U.S.-Russian relations, where under the earlier Bush administration we began negotiating a deal to purchase highly enriched uranium from Russia. And for all the ups and downs and to-ings and fro-ings -- and I worked a lot on that, and we suffered in trying to make it work, but it did work -- 10,000 nuclear warheads of highly enriched uranium have now come out of Russia, have been blended down, and are being irradiated in U.S. reactors, which provide 20 percent of America's electricity. Half of that electricity is coming from Russian bombs. So one out of every 10 of these light bulbs is coming from a bomb.
Why did it work? Because there's an underlying commercial basis that gives self-interest and not virtue the upper hand. If we could inject into this reliable fuel initiative which the administration came up with last month that motive of commercial self-interest and get the commercial nuclear industry involved in it, I think that you have a chance to make it work.
ROBBINS: Obviously not with the Iranians, but what you would do is you would get the other members of the non-aligned and other countries saying, oh well --
PONEMAN: I'd start with Iran.
ROBBINS: -- the Iranians are not -- well, the Iranians would say -- the Iranians are never going to go for it because it doesn't give them a nuclear weapon capability. It's a good -- it's certainly a good way to corner them.
PONEMAN: It's -- a good way to corner them, I'll let it lie there.
ROBBINS: The gentleman here.
QUESTIONER: My name is Chris Isham with ABC.
If the panel could discuss a little bit delivery system. We've talked about enrichment and talked about weaponization. Iran has bought a number of missile systems from North Korea and others. You mentioned the Shahab-3. They also -- BM-25 I believe, which is a version of the SSN-6. What is sort of the range of options that you see that they've got available, and how might those be used?
FITZPATRICK: It really beats me why Iran is seeking that additional capacity beyond their Shahab-3 for the M-26 or the -- you know, the technology from the Taepo Dong from North Korea that they appear to have been importing in the last couple years because increasing the distance of their missile delivery gets them covering most of Europe, Moscow, and it seems to me it's quite antagonistic, provocative. I mean, until now Iran's Shahab-3 were able to reach Turkey and Israel and U.S. forces in the Gulf, and you know, anything reasonable around their neighborhood.
It's not known that the Shahab-3 could carry any nuclear warheads that Iran would have been able to develop by now. As Carla mentioned, the plans that Libya acquired from the A.Q. Khan network are too large to fit on a Shahab-3. But presumably, given the momentum that seems to be in this program of going beyond Shahab-3 to Shahab-4; getting more technology from North Korea, from Russian intermediaries; that it stands to reason that Iran would also be working on trying to develop a bomb that would fit on the missile.
ROBBINS: Next question?
PONEMAN: I would just say on that, also, we need to avoid mirror imaging on missiles. They could use trucks for delivery systems. I think just as the bomb making is easier than getting the HEU, the delivery is much easier than making a bomb.
ROBBINS: The gentleman in the back, and then --
QUESTIONER: Hi. Josh Harris, Apollo Management.
Quick question in terms of the Bush administration's position on this. The Bush administration seems to be hedging its bets publicly. On the one hand it's pursuing diplomatic solutions to it; on the other hand, no options are off the table. So that essentially leaves the military option on the table in a clever way.
What's going on inside the Bush administration in terms of this alarming -- the alarming speed at which this is picking up momentum? What are the real feelings about how long the Bush administration is going to allow this go on? And you know, is the military option really on the table?
ROBBINS: This is actually going to be the third panel later. I think if I had to bet they're going to play out the string on it, but that's my bottom-line bet.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Roland Paul. Some years ago I was at the Pentagon and then working somewhat on arms control issues.
Carla made a statement that the Iranians were entitled to break the seals on the uranium that they had. I wonder, just briefly, does that indicate that this IAEA seal process doesn't -- is not a very good security against a host country acquiring the uranium that they have in the country that is under seal?
PONEMAN: Well, one of the important things to remember about the IAEA is it's an early warning mechanism. They don't have guns. And the best you get out of the IAEA is an accounting for materials in place, disclosure of activity that is being performed, and you basically get eyes and ears to the rest of the world on what is going on in the program.
And I think the -- having the seals there is incredibly valuable. Think -- for example, we talked a few minutes ago about North Korea. We had seals on all those facilities for eight years. That's eight years of no plutonium. That's a big deal. They could have had 100 bombs by then.
So I think it's important not to expect of the IAEA more than it was designed to or is enabled or empowered to deliver.
ROBBINS: Plus those seals were there voluntarily. This was not an IAEA safeguard agreement. This was part of the deal with the European -- the EU-3 negotiations, that this was the voluntary suspension seals. It's not like a diversion issue, although what -- ultimately, on the diversion question, I mean, they don't have guns. And it does become an accounting issue post hoc.
Anybody over here?
QUESTIONER: David Robinson, Carnegie Corporation.
Technical point. I mean, we've spent a lot of time trying to get our uranium bombs -- our first one could not fit on a missile. How easy is it to construct an efficient uranium weapon that will be small enough to fit on their missiles? And how much time do you think it would take them to get there?
FERGUSON: You'd probably have to use an implosion device. You know, because Dan was talking about the simple gun-type device. That's the first uranium bomb we developed. And the first one that was used was against Hiroshima, and as you know, it required a B-29, a huge airplane, to carry the thing. This was over 10,000 pounds this thing weighed. So you would have to use some kind of implosion technique, and probably maybe a relatively sophisticated implosion technique, where hollow pits -- I know it's a very technical term here -- but you basically don't have a solid sphere. You try to cut down on the mass of fissile material as much as possible because that's really heavy stuff. And you try to also -- and Mark touched on this, and also Carla did -- but the laptops and the warheads they may be designing or developing for the missiles, I think there's still a lot more development they may have to do. But we don't know; we could be surprised. I think all of us agree there is still a lot of uncertainty here, and you know, you could wake up one day and they already have this ready to roll. But it's -- or it could take several more years to develop.
ROBBINS: And that's why what is so intriguing about what is going on right now in the pilot enrichment plant, is that they seem to be leaping over what we thought was going to take them a long period of time. If they're designing something that looks small, maybe they really think they can build something. Or it really may be just an incredible game, to just basically create facts that aren't even real, so that they intimidate everybody into giving them what they want. We really don't know at this point.
And you know, and the cautionary thing about Iraq is always going to be there both politically and internationally, is that if you tell the truth and admit that you don't know, people say, well, the last time when you claimed you did know you were completely wrong. So it's further complicating by even the honesty, which is also the other question, which is, you know, these intel reports and this NIE, which supposedly says five to 10 years, and how caution is the U.S. intelligence community going to be in the other direction, which is another complication.
FERGUSON: Well, throughout the '90s the intelligence community kept saying five years, five years, five years, and so it's always five years. (Laughs.)
PONEMAN: One day it'll be right. (Laughter.)
ROBBINS: There is the mushroom cloud issue, yes.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. H.P. Goldfield, Stonebridge International.
Where are China and Russia on the Iran nuclear equation? And if their buy-in to a solution is critical, what are the odds that we'll get it and how?
PONEMAN: It seems, as an analytical matter, as I understand it, mainly from talking to our U.S. colleagues who are dealing on a daily basis, the debate that actually has persisted for a number of years and which we're scratching at here today is fundamentally over. In other words -- and this is -- and I know this directly as well, mainly on the Russian side -- in the Russian nuclear community, in the Russian security community, I think there is a general acknowledgement that it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck -- this is a nuclear weapons program.
I also -- Mark has been more recently involved than I -- don't think there is tremendous dissent from that proposal in Beijing. The harder question is one the third panel will handle: if you have that baseline assessment, what it is, what do you do about it? But that's outside our scope.
FITZPATRICK: But just one other point to this. Russia and China are not with the other members of the permanent five on the need to take firm steps right now. They've been lagging behind. They have come along a certain extent.
Back in September, when the world did not take firm action when Iran crossed the red line of uranium conversion, the reason the world didn't take a firm response then was because Russia and China wouldn't let them. They opposed any action. They opposed sending this to the Security Council. The best that the Europeans and the Americans could come up with was at least finding Iran in noncompliance; at least drawing the bill of particulars against their breaking of their NPT obligations. And that was an important step back in December, that at least Russia and China at that point acquiesced in.
And so maybe as they move along, and because of their realization that this is a nuclear weapons program, they'll be lagging along but come further. And you know, they came and they allowed this to go to the Security Council in February. They're not ready for sanctions, though.
FERGUSON: What's interesting from an Iranian perspective is, I go back to this Rahani speech from last year. He acknowledges that there is this dichotomy. On the one hand -- this is especially back in last year -- on the one hand, as Mark was saying, you have Russia and China not willing to push this issue so hard to try to get this to the U.N. Security Council. Now it looks like Russia and China have come on board. At least they got to the Security Council. So that has changed. But Rahani did not point out, what was interesting is, as of even last year, you had a consensus, a rough consensus among Russia, China, the EU-3 and the U.S. that Iran shouldn't cross that uranium enrichment threshold. They were trying to make a line there, but they were breaking ranks where Mark was saying Russia and China didn't want to push too hard.
ROBBINS: Dr. Haass.
HAASS: Dan, you made the point we shouldn't -- there's time to capitulate later if we want to. But let me -- let me drill down there.
A pilot program is meant to be a feasibility program, not a surreptitious production program. So what are we talking about? Or to put it another way, if the -- what the Iranians are up to now is a pilot program, it is one that approved certain types of technical feasibility, that they can do certain stuff, but it's not producing at a level where one is actually accumulating enough material to be militarily significant.
So I guess maybe definitions matter here. Do what we see Iran -- do we see Iran undertaking a pilot program? Or, under the guise of a pilot program, do we see them actually undertaking a small production program?
Or to put it yet another way, if they continue doing what we think we're doing, is it simply -- at what rate do they start accumulating militarily significant uranium? Because then we're not talking about a pilot program per se; we're actually talking about a go-slow, under-the-radar production program which may not set off alarm bells, but effectively will get them to the point where, again, it will all depend on the rate of production. All of this it seems to me has real consequences for what we talk about later, which is, are you forced as a diplomat into an all-or-nothing approach, or are there gray-area approaches? Ultimately, do we have diplomatic options that essentially say, we can accept this so long as you observe a certain technological limit, and we have confidence that we can verify that technological limit? So that's what I'm trying to get to.
PONEMAN: First of all, there is a little gray cloud around facts. We're trying to get at facts here. But the new head of the Russian nuclear program, Mr. Kiriyenko, has traveled to Tehran. Mr. Larijani, the Iranian, has traveled to Moscow. So there is dialogue around this so-called Russian proposal, which is where some of the last discussions over what exactly the Iranians are still insisting on doing, even if they were to accept that proposal.
When the -- as I understood it, when the Iranians made their counter proposal to the Europeans, they were talking about 3,000 centrifuges, okay? And if that's the case, that's enough for about two bombs a year. And -- because my understanding is about 1,500 centrifuges give you about one bomb a year. That's too much. And Richard, I agree with the premise which we'll get to later in the day: What we want to avoid is giving the next president only a choice that says, you can either capitulate or attack and have 3,000 bombing targets and so on and so forth.
But to me, giving up the point to the point of having 3,000 centrifuges, if that's where the line gets drawn, is too far. And I would certainly be searching for, if we've got to the point of wishing to find a gray area between capitulation and all-out war, I would be trying to find something that wasn't the functional equivalent of giving them this low-level continuing ability to build a couple of bombs a year.
FITZPATRICK: So one might ask, if they were to stop at really something that could accurately be called a pilot plant, 164-centrifuge module -- if they really were stopping at 164 and you had confidence that they weren't replicating it elsewhere, yeah, that would -- you'd have a pretty good sense because it would take at least 10 years for 164 centrifuges to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, and if the IAEA was there you'd know before they got to the 10th year. You know, but even a small number of centrifuges can do it if you have enough time.
A couple of months ago Iran was giving signals that, let us just have a few hundred and we'll stop there. And now they're saying, let us just have 3,000 and we'll stop -- and we can be talked into stopping there. And you know, if you had some sense of assurance that they really would stop there, you would have wanted to take probably the couple hundred rather than the 3,000. So that's why I'm thinking, at some point, maybe it does make sense, if they've already got the enrichment capability, to at least try to negotiate something that had the smallest number, and then try go get the most intrusive inspections to increase the confidence level that you have, knowing that you don't have 100 percent confidence.
ROBBINS: I wanted to point one thing out, which is that a year ago in the negotiations -- and I think there's a very fundamental point here, which is the Europeans and the Americans think this is negotiations. The Iranians are basically just moving forward. And the way we know this is that a year ago they came up with a grid which they gave to the EU-3 in the London meeting, right?
ROBBINS: And in this grid they had, by this date we're going to start producing UF-6. By this date we're going to open the pilot enrichment plant. First we're going to start with a few hundred, then it's going to go to 1,500, then it's going to go to 3,000, then we're going to open up the underground hall, and we're going to have the 3,000. And if you look at the dates in this grid, they're basically two or three weeks behind their schedule. And that's the negotiation at this point.
So you can talk about, you know, what are we negotiating with them. As far as they're concerned, they're moving forward.
Any more questions? (Inaudible) -- yeah. I have no opinion; I'm a reporter. (Laughter.)
QUESTIONER: Steven Hellman from OILspace, Inc. With due deference to the panels who will be later on in the day, and with respect to the technical background of the current panel, can we talk about the military option for one quick second? Is there -- is there even the military option? Is there a way to eliminate -- technically, militarily, is there a way to eliminate the weapons programs without -- short of taking over the bloody country like we've done in Iraq?
ROBBINS: Or setting it back significantly, I think --
FERGUSON: I don't think you could totally, you know, eliminate the weapons programs. One thing we've been saying, if you're -- you know, the Iranian representative here has been saying, well, the knowledge is in their head. So you know, we're going to have hit squads going out there -- (laughs) -- and assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists, you know, to take it to an extreme.
But I think, you know, an option to consider is bombing Natanz, bombing Isfahan, bombing essentially the sites we know of. And putting aside the political repercussions and the other ripple effects that could be horrific, just looking at it from the military standpoint, just trying to delay the onset of the program, that's the obvious targets you'd want to hit first.
FITZPATRICK: Just a -- saying something here, just keeping to our technological mandate of this panel, you know, how far along they are -- Iran has been reading about these potential ideas of airstrikes that would take out Natanz. Taking out the pilot plants at Natanz, the pilot plant that's above ground, where they had been planning to have 1,000 centrifuges -- they've only got 164 there. They're not going to 1,000 above ground. They're going to go directly eight meters below ground at the commercial-scale enrichment plant. And I don't know enough about bunker busters to know, but I think they are thinking that once you get eight meters below ground and have your 3,000 centrifuge cascade down there that you'd be better protected from weaponization, from bombing.
FERGUSON: I'd just point out Israel purchased about 500 conventional bunker busting bomb from the United States about a year or so ago. So I know the Israelis are arming themselves; not necessary they act on it.
PONEMAN: Also to stick to our technical mandate, remember, we can only --
ROBBINS: (Chuckles.) So disciplined.
PONEMAN: I'm trying; Richard's right here. I don't want to get in trouble.
PONEMAN: Remember, we can only bomb the targets we know. Therefore, my sense is you could defer by a number of years their activities there. We don't know, A, about the other targets; and B, if they do procure 50, 100 kilograms of HEU already minted in Russia or somewhere else in the former Soviet Union, it doesn't matter; they still have the capability to make a bomb even after a strike.
FERGUSON: What I don't buy with the argument there, Dan, is it doesn't make sense. You know, it goes back to Dr. Strangelove. What's the point of having a doomsday machine if no one knows about it? If you want to have a deterrent-type relationship, you don't want hidden, surreptitious material purchased in the black market unless you're just going to pell-mell go ahead and blow up the bomb. I think you would want the capability that's out in the open, and you are flexing your muscles, and people know about it.
PONEMAN: I'd make a couple of points. If you could get the bomb capability and you want the capability, I think you're going to get the capability. And I don't think governments tend to confine to themselves to necessarily one route, number one.
Number two, this gentleman posited a bombing scenario. They might get a little angry after that happens. And they may say, "you know what, I'm not going to play by the Manhattan Project rules today; I'm going to try something a little faster."
So I don't take huge comfort, even though I think they are strutting around and showing their wares -- you know, enrichment program -- now. That doesn't give me enough comfort if I were once again in policy to exclude other routes as a possibility.
ROBBINS: Okay, we're in final jeopardy. One final question here.
QUESTIONER: Marty Gross from Sandalwood.
Let's take the proposition that Iran now has the knowledge to do this nuclear feat that we do not want it to get. What does that mean? Does that mean that there's one scientist who knows how to do this? Does that mean there are 50 individuals in which that knowledge resides? Does that mean that it's on plans which you can now give to 100 to 200 to 400 people that they will then know that? Wherein is the knowledge contained?
PONEMAN: This is an excellent question, and one that we wrestled with a lot at the time of the breakup of the former Soviet Union because we were dealing with an existing robust nuclear weapons program, and we were trying to find worthy things for these people to do outside of building bombs for bad guys.
And I'll tell you the assessment then, which is a nuclear weapons program has to have maybe one or a couple of Oppenheimers; that is, somebody who knows every aspect up, down and sideways, and can really pull all the pieces together. And certainly in that cadre of people who master several aspects of it, can pull it all together, you -- we were talking about in the tens of people. Beyond that, there were maybe a couple of thousand people who had intimate technical knowledge of specific processes, be they enrichment or bomb design processes, that would go into the overall master plan of building a weapon. And below that you had probably thousands of -- or 10,000 people who were technicians and wrench turners who had to actually build the machinery and all that kind of stuff to do it.
I don't know, to be candid, enough about exactly who is doing what to whom in Iran to give you exact numbers. But that's the kind of scope of program that I think one would worry about.
ROBBINS: Great. Thank you all very, very much. I see Deborah Amos here, so we move on to the next panel.
QUESTIONER: One question (off-mike, regarding whether Iran might have a gaseous diffusion program to enrich uranium).
FITZPATRICK: There is no knowledge of such a program in Iran. It's been posited that that could be one of the technological solutions, a gaseous diffusion enrichment that would be limited to a 10 percent enrichment or less.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)
FITZPATRICK: You know, I've heard people suggest that the French, who have the lock on this knowledge, aren't so keen to go down that route. But it's one that might be thought about as a technological option.
ROBBINS: And this was the geek panel. Thank you very much. (Chuckles, applause.)
I'm sorry; I'm supposed to tell you we have 15 minutes for coffee, and back here at 10: 30.
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