Iran's Latest Nuclear Crisis
Fox News, May 3, 2007
With his latest claim of
progress in the advance of its nuclear program -
specifically, that Tehran is now producing nuclear fuel
on an "industrial scale," a claim discounted by most
foreign governments and private-sector analysts -
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday once
again sought to up the ante in his country's
long-running standoff with the West. The claim came,
moreover, just days after the release of fifteen British
sailors and marines taken captive at gunpoint by Iranian
naval units on the high seas and held for nearly two
weeks.The news out of Iran thus raises many questions:
How believable is Ahmadinejad's latest claim of nuclear
progress? How deeply involved in the nuclear program are
Iran's armed forces? To what extent have inspectors from
the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, the
International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, been barred
from relevant sites? What was the true goal of - and who
gave the final orders for - the operation that seized
the British sailors and marines? How much support does
Ahmadinejad enjoy from Iran's Supreme Leader, the
Ayatollah Ali Khameini? And are there, as British Prime
Minister Tony Blair claimed, new and interesting lines
of communication with elements inside the Iranian regime
that the West should be pursuing?
FOX News State Department Correspondent James Rosen explored these and other questions with FOX News contributor Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian dissident and former official with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis."
James Rosen: What is your understanding of what the Iranians actually announced today? Because I just watched Sean McCormack's briefing at the State Department, and he was saying "We're not exactly clear on what they're actually saying." What is your understanding of what they were saying?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, the announcement that came from Iran was basically bits and pieces of a larger announcement. They said in a vague way at the beginning that they have the ability to enrich uranium [at an] "industrial level," whatever that means. Then they announced later that they have actually installed as many as 3,000 centrifuge machines in Natanz. And once they were asked whether they have injected uranium hexafluoride [gas] into the machines, they basically said "Yes."
James Rosen: That was [Ali] Larijani?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: That was Larijani, right....What the Iranian regime announced today, which was basically installing 3,000 centrifuge machines and making them operational in the large cascade halls in Natanz basically corroborates with what I've been hearing from my sources for a long time. My sources told me last year that Iran has as many as 5,000 centrifuge machines ready to be installed in the large cascade halls. And what Tehran announced today corroborates with those sources. We know for a fact that Iran has been installing those centrifuge machines for months in the large cascade halls; so it is conceivable that what Iran announced is correct — that they have installed 3,000 centrifuge machines and made them operational for what they call enriching uranium to peaceful levels.
James Rosen: When someone like Larijani says that they have fed the feedstock into the centrifuges...inserted the gas into the centrifuges, that doesn't mean necessarily that the cascade is operational. You can insert the gas and it might work and it might not work, true?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: It is true. It is possible that there are some technical obstacles that they would still need to overcome. But to the best of my understanding, the regime has already had the ability to run cascades of 164 centrifuges on a couple of cases before, and they don't have a major obstacle that they really need to overcome. They have all the necessary ingredients to really put together the centrifuge program. They have the expertise, they have their experts to do it. They have the equipment. They have all the resources that's needed for that. So whether it's true or not today, it will definitely be true in weeks from now. So we need to be really concerned about what it means, you know — Iran running 3,000 centrifuge machines with the ability to enrich uranium. It would really put the regime one significant step closer to building the bomb. Because once Iran has the ability to enrich the uranium to what they call a peaceful level, they're only a screwdriver's turn away from enriching it further for the bomb.
James Rosen: You mentioned that your sources tell you — have been telling you for some time — that they [the Iranians] have 5,000 centrifuges set up. This regime doesn't seem shy about making the grandest claims for itself; so if they have 5,000 centrifuges up and running, why wouldn't they say 5,000? Why would they scale it back and just say, "We have 3,000"?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, my sources were telling me they have 5,000 centrifuge machines ready to be installed. Now how many of them have been installed, it's yet to be determined. The regime claims today that they have installed 3,000. They haven't said that they don't have more than 3,000; in fact, Iran has said that they're planning to install as many as 60,000 centrifuge machines in the two large cascade halls in Natanz, which are actually underground facilities. Iran has the ability to build its own centrifuges. They are building most of the parts in Isfahan and in Tehran, and they import the engines from abroad.
James Rosen: Alireza, one of the questions that always comes up when the subject of you comes up is: We all know that the United States suffers from a deficit of reliable intelligence coming out of Iran, in terms of what they call "human intelligence," "signals intelligence." I suppose we do better on signals intelligence because we have the satellites and we have the National Security Agency , we have that kind of technology. So the question that arises about you, and the claims that you make, your organization [the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which Jafarzadeh formerly served as media relations director and chief liaison for Capitol Hill] — even though we know that you have been correct in the past — is: If the resources of the United States government are not sufficient to enable us to really put people on the ground in Iran, or to get the kind of intelligence we need from the ground in Iran, how is it that a group that is much less well-funded than the United States of America, your group, can develop intelligence about these matters and succeed in extracting it from the country? How is it that a group that has not got the funding available to it that the United States of America has available to it can succeed where the United States has failed in this regard? That's — do you understand the question I'm asking you?
Alireza Jafarzadeh:Absolutely. The reason that the main Iranian opposition, known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has been able to come up with much more valid and accurate intelligence about the nuclear weapons program of Iran than all the other intelligence agencies around the world is that they are present in Iran. They have an extensive network inside Iran, within the Iranian regime, that has direct access to information not only on the nuclear weapons program of Iran, but on a lot of other activities of the Iranian regime in terms of terrorism, what the regime is doing in Iraq, and in terms of its missile program. So it's that kind of an extensive, widespread presence in Iran that there is no other replacement for it. No signal intelligence, no equipment, no satellite imagery can replace an extensive Iranian opposition network inside Iran, within the regime, that can provide information to the whole world about the program, about the intentions, about what's going on in those buildings, what are their plans, and what goes on in the minds of the Iranian ayatollahs, what their bigger ambition is, in terms of trying to get these bombs.
James Rosen: But to provide that information requires a means to provide it, whether it's e-mail, telephone. There aren't that many ways to get this information from those buildings to Washington, DC. and presumably the United States — and presumably it involves electronics. And so how is it that you're able to manage that, and the United States, with its extraordinary signals apparatus, doesn't get it first, even before you get it? Or as you're getting it?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, that's the $64,000 question that the Iranian regime has [been] trying to — I think more important than the intelligence agencies is the Iranian regime itself is trying to find out, you know, where the leaks are and how this valuable, most crucial intelligence is consistently being exposed by the main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, over the years. And Tehran has not succeeded in cutting the flow of intelligence outside of the regime.
James Rosen: Has a single person that your organization has relied upon been exposed and punished by the regime? Once? Has there been a single case of it?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: There has [sic] been a number of occasions that Tehran has announced that they have actually arrested, identified and arrested, the sources that led to intelligence regarding Natanz, Arak, a number of other nuclear sites. But that turned out to be not true. And in fact further information was revealed right after Tehran's "successful" announcement that they have arrested the sources of intelligence. So clearly the Iranian opposition network in Iran as of now has remained intact and has been extremely effective in exposing a whole host of rogue behavior of the Iranian regime, both in terms of the nuclear program and also what Iran is doing in Iraq.
James Rosen: [...] Is it a difficulty for you in trying to sound the alarms about the Iranian system — although I think the world is pretty well sufficiently, now, much more so than they were in 2002, attentive to the threat posed by Iran — but is it a problem for you and your organization as you go about your work that the American experience in Iraq, and WMD, and Ahmed Chalabi, and the rest of it — you know, are you constantly finding that you are likened to Chalabi? Like, "Oh, we had expats — expatriates from Iraq who were telling us all sorts of things about the Iraqi weapons program to get us to go to war and to topple that regime, and we did so on their word, and, you know, look what happened: There were no WMD. Why should we believe an Iranian expatriate group that, you know" — and I know you've already had some record of success, at Natanz. But are you finding that that's a problem for you? That kind of suspicion [after] the Chalabi experience? Is that something that you hear about a lot?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, the Iranian opposition is not comparable to Ahmed Chalabi and the INC — because Chalabi was being supported, funded and sponsored by the U.S. government. He wanted to push for the war against Iraq. Unlike that, [in] the case of the Iranian opposition, they have not been supported by the State Department. Not only that, they have been designated as terrorist[s] by the State Department as a means to make overtures to the Iranian regime. Their funds were frozen by the State Department, and they're not calling for war. They are saying we should stay away from the war and we should reach out to the Iranian opposition. Let them settle their course with the Iranian regime, and let them overthrow the ayatollahs, as the situation inside Iran is very volatile. There were some 4,800 anti-government demonstrations in the past Iranian year, from March 2005 to March 2006 — from March 2006 to March 2007. So that's a very, very serious situation that needs to be exploited.
James Rosen: Tony Blair said after the sailors were released that some "new and interesting lines of communication" had opened up between the British government and elements inside the regime, and that he thought that they should be pursued. I, moreover, heard from my own British government sources that their own estimate of what happened in this whole affair was that one of the consequences will be that Ahmadinejad's standing with the Supreme Leader has been damaged by this. Do you see: a) new and interesting lines of communication being opened up with elements of the regime and the West? and b) that Ahmadinejad's standing suffered with the Ayatollah as a result of this? Where do you see the relationship between the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, the whole hostage-taking of the fifteen British sailors, if you will, by the Iranian regime was approved by the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad and carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its navy.
James Rosen: How do you know that?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: My sources inside Iran are telling me that the whole operation was pre-planned from weeks in advance. From days before, top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards were briefed; they went to Tehran and were briefed. The night before the operation, the command headquarters for the Third Navy, which is responsible for that part of the Persian Gulf, was on full alert in Khoram Sha'ar [phonetic] and the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards were in constant communication with Tehran to carry out this operation, to take the Brits as hostage, in order to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish with the Security Council, at the United Nations, and with what Iran is doing in Iraq. They wanted to use this as a means to intimidate Great Britain, to get even with them, and to make sure that when future resolutions are introduced at the United Nations Security Council, they will not be as tough. And then [the] Iranian regime's agents, who were arrested by Americans in Iraq, would not be punished, would be released, and future arrests would not take place. This was the whole purpose behind this. Therefore, there is no rift, really, between Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khameini. And I would be very, very skeptical about any line of communications that is opened as a result of this hostage-taking, because it would only be counter-productive. It would only further encourage Tehran to use terrorism as a tool to pursue its foreign policy.
James Rosen: You don't think it's possible that once this event was upon us, there were some elements in the Iranian regime that differed with this whole thing and wanted to see a swifter resolution, and might be worth trying to cultivate?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well, this whole effort, trying to cultivate some "moderate elements" within the Iranian regime has run its course. We had Rafsanjani, who was a so-called moderate during the Iran-Contra affair, and we know what happened: He became president for eight years. And then Khatami succeeded Rafsanjani, who was perceived to be even more moderate than Rafsanjani. Yet the main nuclear sites were built under Khatami; the missile program was developed significantly under Khatami; and the terror network of the Iranian regime got a major boost under the so-called "moderate" Khatami. So these imaginary moderates that people are trying to reach out to are actually the terrorists who are sidelined by the ruling faction, and once they are in power, they would do the same thing. So the real opening should be with the Iranian people, the opposition — the sources inside Iran who want to reject the regime in its entirety. And that's the majority of the population that has not been explored by the outside world.
James Rosen: You don't see any evidence that the Supreme Leader has at all, in recent months, soured on Ahmadinejad, in terms of some of the editorials we've seen in state-run media and some other sort of — you don't see any of those tea leaves?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: There is, there is — I have not seen any evidence that suggests that the relationship between Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader has soured. In fact, Ahmadinejad enjoys more support from the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards than he ever did. So no one should really count on some kind of a rift within the regime which you can exploit and see a change in the behavior of the Iranian regime. We have to understand that the clock is ticking; time is running out. The Iranian regime is moving forward very rapidly, trying to get the nuclear bomb, as rapidly as possible. It's intervening in Iraq in the most violent way, trying to turn Iraq into an Islamic republic. We need to see a policy in Washington than will be significantly different than the policy pursued for nearly two decades by the United States regarding Iran. We need to abandon all the bits and pieces of the policy of appeasement and adopt a very decisive approach regarding Iran.
James Rosen: What you're saying about, you know, the search for elusive "imaginary moderates" — does that all go for Larijani as well, by the way?
Alireza Jafarzadeh:A bsolutely. Larijani is a former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards. He was a brigadier general, a top ally of Ahmadinejad. He's as — almost as radical as Ahmadinejad is. So —
James Rosen: You know that some people sort of posit Larijani as a kind of counterweight, a potential counterweight to Ahmadinejad. That's, that's -
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Absolutely there is no foundation to that. Larijani has been working hand-in-hand with Ahmadinejad. In fact, Ahmadinejad worked for Larijani for some period of time, and they've been close allies, working together, and they come from the same school of thought. They belong to the same faction within the Iranian regime, and they both want to boost the status of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [sic], who are basically dominating the whole regime right now.
James Rosen: Last question: When someone wants to gauge the status of the American economy, they can look at — we used to look primarily at unemployment: What's the percentage of unemployment? Is it five percent? Is it four percent? In more recent years, people have tended to look at the number of jobs created in a given month. So there's any number of indices by which to gauge, say, the economy of a country. Likewise, there are any number of indices by which to gauge the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. And one of the ways, it seems, that everyone's focused on is the number of centrifuges, the number of centrifuges. I wonder if you could tell me: Is there another way — are there other ways to gauge the progress of the Iranian nuclear program that people aren't paying attention to, but they ought to be?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Absolutely. I think one aspect that we need to carefully look at is the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the whole nuclear weapons program of the Iranian regime. Anywhere in the world, once you have [the] military involved in a so-called peaceful nuclear program, that's a red flag that we are talking about a nuclear weapons program. In the case of Iran, it's the Revolutionary Guards that is actually dominating the whole program, especially since Ahmadinejad took office. A number of major nuclear sites are actually military sites run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards [sic] that have been off-limits to the IAEA.
James Rosen: Which are? Which include?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Including the site in Lavizan, including the Imam Hossein University, which is a military site, but they are doing extensive research and development at Imam Hossein University. The site in Parchin -
James Rosen: Is that the Physics Research Center you're talking about, or is that a different place?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: No, that's a different place. That's a university run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards known as Imam Hossein University that has [an] extensive research and development program. Top nuclear scientists of the Iranian regime that are also supposedly by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran are actually working in that military university and they are in charge of [the] extensive research and development program there.
James Rosen: You mentioned Lavizan. Did you mean I or II?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Lavizan II. Lavizan I is basically, you know, they wiped it off —
James Rosen: It
Alireza Jafarzadeh: It was razed. But Lavizan II is a nuclear site. It's a military site. It has been off-limits to the IAEA. The site in Parchin: There are a number of various kinds of nuclear activities in Parchin and it has been inspected only once, only a very limited part of Parchin, and then the IAEA was not allowed to that site. So in terms of inspections, a good number of sites have been off-limits to the IAEA.
James Rosen: Thank you very much.
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Thank you, thank you.