Daniel Dombey and Fidelius Schmid – Financial Times February 13, 2007
Iran will be able to develop enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb and there is little that can be done to prevent it, an internal European Union document has concluded.
In an admission of the international community's failure to hold back Iran's nuclear ambitions, the document – compiled by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief – says the atomic programme has been delayed only by technical limitations rather than diplomatic pressure. "Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded," it states.
The downbeat conclusions of the "reflection paper" – seen by the Financial Times – are certain to be seized on by advocates of military action, who fear that Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a bomb over the next two to three years. Tehran insists its purposes are purely peaceful.
"At some stage we must expect that Iran will acquire the capacity to enrich uranium on the scale required for a weapons programme," says the paper, dated February 7 and circulated to the EU's 27 national governments ahead of a foreign ministers meeting yesterday.
"In practice . . . the Iranians have pursued their programme at their own pace, the limiting factor being technical difficulties rather than resolutions by the UN or the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone."
The admission is a blow to hopes that a deal with Iran can be reached and comes at a sensitive time, when tensions between the US and Tehran are rising. Its implication that sanctions will prove ineffective will also be unwelcome to EU diplomats. Only yesterday the bloc agreed on how to apply United Nations sanctions on Tehran, overcoming a dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar.
Iran has set up several hundred centrifuges to enrich uranium, a process that can yield both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material. But analysts say that Iran is behind schedule on plans to install 3,000 centrifuges to produce enriched uranium on a larger scale.
Last year Ernst Uhrlau, the head of German intelligence, said Tehran would not be able to produce enough material for a nuclear bomb before 2010 and would only be able to make it into a weapon by about 2015.
The EU document is embarrassing for advocates of negotiations with Iran, since last year it was Mr Solana and his staff who spearheaded talks with Tehran on behalf of both the EU and the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
The paper adds that Tehran's rejection of the offer put forward by Mr Solana "makes it difficult to believe that, at least in the short run, [Iran] would be ready to establish the conditions for the resumption of negotiations".
Last updated 15/02/2007