Is Iran ready to build nuclear bombs?

By Jin Liangxiang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 22, 2013
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 [By Jiao Haiyang/]

 [By Jiao Haiyang/]

Many believe that Barack Obama's visit to Israel is based around the Iran nuclear issue. Both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are worried about Iran's progress in nuclear capability, albeit hold different perceptions of urgency. However, despite broad international concern, Iran is actually very far away from being able to make an atomic bomb.

To begin, no domestic consensus is available on whether Iran should develop nuclear weapons. Western countries are not willing to recognize Iran's Islamic democracy, but true policy debates do exist in Iran. Besides very few ultraconservatives who stand for developing nuclear weapons at whatever the cost, there are another two different positions about what kind of nuclear capabilities Iran should have.

Iran's liberalists think that Iran should abide by international laws including the NPT. On one hand, they hold that as a regional power with more than 70 million people, Iran should have reasonable nuclear capability, both for the sake of technology advancement and for economic development. As a member of the NPT, Iran should have full rights that the treaty prescribes for its members. On the other hand, they believe that Iran should keep its commitments not to develop nuclear weapons.

Pragmatists advocate that Iran should advance its nuclear capability as far as possible, including nuclear weapons. But they are also very sensitive to external pressures. They opine that if the cost is too high, and the pressure is too great, they should stop moving forward.

The west believes that the Islamic Republic is determined to become the tenth nuclear power, but the final result will depend upon the debates among the three factions. Iran might have the impetus to develop nuclear weapons, but resistance from liberals remains strong, and pragmatists are not prepared to support a weapons program. International sanctions are also beginning to bite.

Secondly, Iran will have to break through two restrictions before starting weapons development in its nuclear program. As a member of the NPT and IAEA, Iran has an obligation to cooperate with IAEA inspections. If Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, it will have to withdraw from the NPT and IAEA six months ahead of time. Otherwise, it is not very likely that Iran will be able to develop nuclear weapons in secret.

Another restriction is Sayyid Ali Khamenei's assurance. The Supreme Leader has in various occasions assured the world that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons, which are haram (sinful) in Islam. Such commitments might be made out of external pressure, but it is not likely. Once openly stated, it will restrict Iran's nuclear ambitions. If Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, it will have to firstly renege against the promise of the Supreme Leader. It should never be an easy job considering the special status the Supreme Leader has in Iran's politics.

Thirdly, Iran is still not technically prepared to make a bomb. According to the latest IAEA report about Iran's nuclear activities issued in February, Iran has produced approximately 160 kg of enriched uranium with a purity of 20 percent, significantly lower than the 240 kg threshold that is needed for further enrichment with purity of 90 percent for a nuclear bomb.

It is highly unlikely that Iran will produce adequate amounts of uranium under current international sanctions. It took Iran almost ten years from 2003 to 2012 to realize its capability to enrich 20 percent purity uranium. Can Iran achieve weapon-grade uranium enrichment capability that easily?

All in all, Iran is prepared neither politically nor technically for making a nuclear bomb. International measures to deal with Iran on the nuclear issue should be based in the reality of Iran's nuclear progress. Otherwise, they will simply backfire.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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