Hans Blix Says Iran Has 'Legal Right' To Enrich Uranium
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Iran has ''a legal right'' to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but an attack by the U.S. or Israel would probably push the Iranians to build a nuclear bomb, former top U.N. weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix said.
"When the U.S. says that it is unacceptable for Iran to have enrichment capacity, well I don't think that quite squares with the Non-Proliferation Treaty that permits it," Dr. Blix said in an interview.
Iran "may have enriched some very small quantities, but I can't be sure about that. They have very few centrifuges mounted," he said.
"They know that they are in a tense region of the world, and that tensions will go higher if they continue to mount and build these centrifuges, and if indeed they produce the highly enriched uranium. But I wouldn't say that is prohibited. They are within a legal right to do so. And they assert it is for peaceful purposes."
Iran secretly imported centrifuges and were constructing a heavy-water research reactor to build up their capability to enrich uranium, he said.
"I can understand those who are suspicious because they did hide what they did. They didn't abide or respect their safeguard agreements that they have with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," he said.
"I don't know how many centrifuges they have, but to have a real capability -- not only technological but a practical, industrial one -- they would need thousands of centrifuges. They have not come to that stage at all. But they could produce them," Dr. Blix said.
An attack by America or Israel would probably aim at "destroying any nascent enrichment capability, perhaps also hexofloride production capability," the former Swedish diplomat said.
"If the Iranians are suspecting a strike -- whether to punish or pre-empt -- surely they would have tried to find someplace where they can hide [their uranium enrichment capability], where they can make more," he said.
"If anything would make them more determined to go ahead with a nuclear weapons program, I suppose it would be an attack," Dr. Blix said.
Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which allows mining and enrichment of uranium, and development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, such as energy or medical research, under IAEA monitoring.
"They have the capability to produce hexofloride, which is the feed material that you put into the centrifuges and obtain enriched uranium," said Dr. Blix, currently chairman of an international weapons of mass destruction commission, financed by the Swedish government.
"They do need enriched uranium for their two light-water reactors, which they built in Bushehr along the Persian Gulf, but that enrichment need not go any further than around five percent.
"However, if you can enrich to five percent, you can also enrich to 85 percent, that's a weapons grade. It is permitted, entirely permitted, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium, but it is not permitted to do it in order to make nuclear weapons," he said.
For example, Japan, Brazil and South Africa signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, enriched uranium for peaceful purposes, and "there are no objections raised to them," Dr. Blix said.
"So I don't think one should tell the Iranians that 'You cannot do this for the same purpose as these three'."
Dr. Blix was interviewed on Sunday (Feb. 6), hours after arriving in Bangkok where he will address various forums about peace and disarmament, on a trip sponsored by the International Peace Foundation.
"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve," U.S. President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 2.
"We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program, and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror," Mr. Bush said.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who is "widely regarded as the father of Israel's secretive nuclear deterrent, dampened suggestions that Israel was planning pre-emptive strikes against Iran," the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on Jan. 24.
"The party that will decide is the United States," Mr. Peres told Israel's Army Radio.
"If we go it alone, we will remain alone. Everyone knows our potential, but we also have to know our limits," Mr. Peres said, according to the BBC's monitoring of Israel's Army Radio.
American reporter Seymour Hersh, in the New Yorker magazine, reported in January that U.S. special forces conducted secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to identify and target nuclear and other facilities.
Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is= www.geocities.com/glossograph/