Final countdown

Tucked away in Warren Hoge’s New York Times story today on the diplomatic diversion contributing to Iran’s nuclear program is this piece of information:

Diplomats from different countries, who declined to be identified because they were discussing sensitive classified information, said Iran appeared on the verge of assembling 164 centrifuges, the number needed to form a “cascade” mechanism that could enrich uranium for nuclear energy or, eventually, bombs.

In effect, they said the 164 centrifuges would significantly increase Iran’s ability to make weapons, in defiance of demands by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the United States that it cease its uranium activities immediately.

“What this means is that time is not on our side,” a European diplomat said. “It means that while we are negotiating, Iran is not wasting its time.”

Various diplomats also expressed a sense of urgency.

France’s ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sablière, said: “It seems to me we will need some time, a few days, I suppose. But we don’t have much time. I guess that we will have to come to the end of discussion very soon. But I cannot tell you exactly when.”

Once Iran masters the operation of a 164-centrifuge cascade, it is my understnading that its ability to manufacture the fuel for nuclear weapons is essentially at hand, although the time to manufacture the necessary amount of fuel for a nuclear weapon remains in issue. It is my understanding that knowledgeable observers consider the achievement of an operational 164-centrifuge cascade the point at which the rationale for diplomatic maneuvering comes to an end. From the Times story, it appears that we may be weeks or days from that point.

Ron Rosenbaum is a very smart guy and, in my opinion, his New York Observer column has something important to say on this subject: “Intelligent people need some pessimism about Iran and the bomb.” (Courtesy of RealClearPolitics.)

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