Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent – the level considered to be “highly enriched” and the threshold for setting off a nuclear reaction. Iranian Press-TV reported that the country formally informed the United Nations nuclear-watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, of its intentions on Monday.
This announcement comes on the heels of the Munich Security Conference. There, Iranian Foreign Minister, Manoucheher Mottaki claimed his country was close to an international agreement that would ship its low-enriched uranium elsewhere in exchange for further enriched uranium to be used as fuel.
World powers – including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – presented this plan last year as a means to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to a level that could eventually be used in a nuclear bomb. Mottaki said, “I personally believe we have created conducive ground for such an exchange in the not very distant future.”
However, on the same day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told The New York Times that the U.S. and its allies were not close to a compromise with Iran regarding its nuclear program.
Jen Ziemke, a professor of political science at John Carroll University, said, “I feel there is always hope of averting crisis and reaching agreement in international affairs, even up until the very last moments when two countries are busy preparing for war. However, the window of opportunity and chance for cooperation narrows with every passing day of stalemate. The longer the crisis simmers or escalates, the more difficult it will be to strike a bargain acceptable to both sides.”
These developments are happening amidst numerous concerns over the intentions of the Iranian program. While the country has always maintained the program is for peaceful, civilian power, many countries fear that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons.
At first, Mottaki’s statements at the annual conference were seen as a breakthrough in the long-time debate over Iran’s nuclear program. Though, all indications from other world leaders and Iran’s actions on Monday suggest that a deal is nowhere in sight.
“Iran seems to be playing a mixed strategy of confusion, deceit, and seeming cooperation with the international community in an attempt to stall, confuse and gain time. The threat of an Iranian bomb – or an actual bomb, for that matter – could simply be the blackmail they need to force more favorable concessions at any future bargaining table,” said Ziemke.