Omri Ceren writes from The Israel Project with the latest development in our partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Omri writes:
Heavy water is a relatively rare form of water that is used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The nuclear deal forbids Iran from stockpiling more than 130 tonnes of heavy water at any given time.
But the Iranians have been overproducing. In February they violated the nuclear deal by going over the 130 ton cap, and they had to ship out their excess material to get back into compliance [a][b]. Instead of halting heavy water production in the aftermath of the violation, they continued producing and now may be in danger of violating the deal again.
So – per the Wall Street Journal this morning – the Obama administration will buy the heavy water from Iran in order to “safeguard its landmark nuclear agreement.” The Iranians will be saved from their own overproduction causing them to violate the deal. Some things to look out for:
1) The purchase will almost certainly involve dollars, and therefore indirect access to the U.S. financial system. The administration is refusing to clarify that:
U.S. law still bans Iran from entering the American financial system or conducting business in dollars. The Obama administration is deliberating ways to help Iran conduct dollarized trade without allowing it to directly access the U.S. system, according to U.S. officials. U.S. officials wouldn’t specify how the Department of Energy would pay Iran for the heavy water.
2) The money will almost certainly be taxpayer money, and it may be going to fund terrorism. Congress is trying to get answers on those questions from the administration:
The chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), wrote Mr. Moniz on April 18 to seek clarity on the terms of the deal. He specifically asked how the U.S. would pay for the heavy water and what guarantees the administration had that the funds wouldn’t be used by Tehran to fund its military or terrorist groups.
3) The Obama administration will be keeping alive a part of Iran’s nuclear program that can be turned around and used for producing nuclear weapons:
Some nuclear experts said the U.S. move comes close to subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program in a bid to keep the agreement alive. They said Tehran’s production of heavy water will remain a concern, especially when the constraints on its nuclear program are lifted after 10 to 15 years as part of the agreement. “We shouldn’t be paying them for something they shouldn’t be producing in the first place,” said David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank.
4) The administration’s broader goal for the sale is to mainstream Iran’s nuclear program and encourage other countries to begin relying on Iran for nuclear materials. That’s not extrapolation. It’s their actual spin, which is already appearing elsewhere this morning in sympathetic articles: that thanks to this purchase, Iran’s nuclear program will no longer be an international pariah and other countries will begin purchasing nuclear material from Iran [c]. Those countries will potentially be beyond future U.S. pressure, should a future administration want to limit Iran’s heavy water production:
The U.S. hopes its initial purchase will give other countries the confidence to purchase Iran’s heavy water in the coming years… U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said… “That will be a statement to the world: ‘You want to buy heavy water from Iran, you can buy heavy water from Iran. It’s been done. Even the United States did it.'”