Iran's Big Nuclear Announcement Gets Big Shrugs

This article is from the archive of our partner .

It probably wasn't the reaction Tehran was hoping for following the much hyped announcement that it had developed "advanced nuclear centrifuges," but the televised display of achievement is garnering shrugs in some of the places that matter most. 

In a live television broadcast today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said scientists inserted nuclear fuel rods into Tehran's reactor that were made domestically and enriched to 20 percent—a  "very big achievement" noted Ahmadinejad. In a terse statement following the broadcast, the U.S. called the stated advances "not terribly new and not terribly impressive." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added, " This is not big news. In fact it seems to have been hyped." 

In France and Britain, diplomats issued perfunctory statements of "concern" while Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov emphasized, "We have no smoking gun confirming the presence of a military component and a military aspect of the Iranian nuclear programme."

None of the countries went in-depth about their reaction to the announcement, but a CBS News interview with non-proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick may explain the somewhat muted response. "It's probably a lot of hyperbole," said Fitzpatrick, a director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He told CBS that Iran has been hyping third generation centrifuges for years without any proof of actual progress, "let alone a functional fourth generation." 

Recommended Reading

He added that the material involved in the uranium fuel rods is only viable for creating medical radioactive isotopes. It's not an indication of advancements in a secret weapons program. "It's nothing to do with nuclear weapons," he said. 

Another reason Iran may have over-hyped its announcement today could be the same reason the U.S. downplayed it: This is about Ahmadinejad trying to score a domestic political victory. As Time's Tony Karon explains, "Iran’s nuclear program remains popular and a point of consensus within Tehran’s fractured political system, and Ahmadinejad, whose faction is facing mounting pressure from rival conservatives loyal to the clerical Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, is clearly trying to milk nuclear achievements for political advantage in next month’s parliamentary election."

Karon also theorizes that the announcement could've been intended to play into Iran's game plan for negotiations if international talks were to re-start. "Iranians could arguably be giving themselves the option of offering an end to 20% enrichment as a key concession (from their point of view) in any negotiations, for which they would expect a substantial quid-pro-quo in respect of sanctions," he writes.  Either way, if they wanted shrieks and sputtering from the U.S., they didn't get it this time.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.