File photo of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Photograph:( Reuters )
After the Trump bombshell (which was not unexpected), is Iran going to build the bomb?
The million-dollar question and the answer to it may depend on what the Europeans do. The US is only one signatory to the Iran deal. There are five others — the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — who still support it.
Top Indian diplomats say the ones to watch are the three European countries. The deal could survive if they stick to it, but for how long? A reading of the US State Department advisory indicates a six-month window for countries to start winding down their Iran connections. These include banking, shipping and oil-related transactions.
All other connections must be shut down in 90 days. So private firms dealing with Iran have that window to terminate their licences "in an orderly way" the advisory helpfully adds.
So what happens to Europe? The advisory mentions dialogue with US allies and partners. That's probably a polite way of saying Washington will bully, intimidate, bend and twist every European arm to ensure they get on board.
Will Europe bend, twist and turn? Probably yes because their stakes in the US are too strong to be sacrificed for Iran.
That leaves the Iranians all the time and space they need to go and build their bomb. There's speculation how long they could take to build one. A few months claim some, more say others.
David Albright of the Institute for Science & International Security, writing in the New York Times, say it would take Iran 8-10 months to rebuild its enrichment complexes and acquire sufficient uranium fuel to make a bomb. This is only a first step, he warns, because the fuel would have to be turned into a weapon.
Recent revelations by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggest Iranian scientists have made detailed studies of warhead design. But that doesn't mean they know how to build one. Nor is it clear that they have the missiles to deliver the warheads.
In July 2015, when the nuclear deal was struck, Iran had less than 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium to power nuclear reactors. But almost all of that had to be moved out of the country. The last inspection by international inspectors indicated iran had about 113 kg of uranium, not enough to make even one nuclear warhead. Nor does it have the uranium required to build a nuclear weapon.
The Iranians may prefer to make haste slowly. They may develop and build new centrifuge models that will then be used to enrich uranium to bomb grade. Iran has at least three uranium mines to make good any shortfall in uranium. So give them a year. But if they end up with something far sooner, you may have to credit some of their neighbours for that.