Say, why was Iran looking to buy 100,000 ring magnets?

posted at 11:21 am on February 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The Washington Post asked this question last night — and none of the answers are particularly good.  Last year, Western intelligence agencies noticed that Iran wanted to procure a very large amount of a specific type of magnet needed in high-speed centrifuges, and had approached China to buy 100,000 of them.  That would be enough to make 50,000 centrifuges, which would exponentially increase the speed of their uranium enrichment:

Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.

Purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 of the ring-shaped magnets — which are banned from export to Iran under U.N. resolutions — from China about a year ago, those familiar with the effort said. It is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.

It’s unclear?  China has a seat on the UN Security Council, and is supposedly part of the effort to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  China should have exposed this attempt.  The fact that they didn’t, and that Iran went to China to purchase them in the first place, tells us plenty about China’s commitment to the non-proliferation effort in regard to Tehran.

The Post’s Joby Warrick subtly connects the dots between this revelation and the recent declaration from Iran on upgrades to its nuclear capabilities:

The revelation of the new orders for nuclear-sensitive parts coincides with Iran’s announcement that it plans to add thousands of more-advanced, second-generation centrifuges that would allow it to ramp up its production of enriched uranium even further, analysts said.

The answer to the second question in the headlines, at least from Iran’s public statements, seems to be yes, they acquired the magnets they sought.  As Warrick notes, that would be a violation of current sanctions on Iran, and punishable by the UN and its members if exposed.  If that’s China — and there probably aren’t a lot of countries that can quickly turn around an order for precision magnets on that scale — don’t expect any consequences at all, not while China holds so much Treasury paper, and not while China’s trade leverage with the US remains so large.

The answer to the first question seems pretty apparent, too, although Warrick reports that Iran has begun converting its uranium stockpile into metal form, which makes it more difficult to weaponize:

Complicating Israel’s calculus, Iran has simultaneously taken steps to ease Western anxiety over its nuclear program, chiefly by converting a portion of its uranium stockpile into a metal form that cannot be easily used to make nuclear weapons. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the conversion of some of Iran’s uranium stockpile was underway. “This work is being done,” the spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told reporters in Tehran.

A report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, due for release this week, is expected to document Iran’s seemingly contradictory moves, portraying the country as carefully avoiding provocative behavior even as it quietly prepares to increase production at its two uranium-enrichment plants.

Clearly, Iran wants a lot more enriched uranium and wants it quickly.  That doesn’t seem to make much sense for a domestic-energy program, given the lack of capacity for Iran to use it at present and in the near future.  It makes more sense if Iran wants to start building weapons with fissile material.

Somehow, I doubt this purchase was as benign as the one below:


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So Iranian’s can put Ammadinnerjacket pictures on their refrigerators?

coldwarrior on February 14, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Fishing up an Israeli sub?

Limerick on February 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM

That would be enough to male 50,000 centrifuges, which would exponentially increase the speed of their uranium enrichment:

Something kinda wrong here Ed.

Electrongod on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

- Board 107 to airport, we have a hijacker! He threatens to blow up the plane!
– Hmm, and I was thinking, why would he need 17 pounds of TNT in his cargo declaration…

Archivarix on February 14, 2013 at 11:29 AM

To cure their arthritis ?

Lucano on February 14, 2013 at 11:30 AM

I suspect Brennan was the deal maker.

Bmore on February 14, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Warrick reports that Iran has begun converting its uranium stockpile into metal form, which makes it more difficult to weaponize:

What metal form?

A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the conversion of some of Iran’s uranium stockpile was underway. “This work is being done,” the spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told reporters in Tehran.

Do you promise?

sharrukin on February 14, 2013 at 11:31 AM

If we owe China money, it is supposed to be our leverage over them, not the other way around. We can always turn much of their financial holdings into a pile of used dog food, and blocking migration from China would go a long way towards solving our unemployment problem and adding to theirs. Of course, none of it would happen as long as they bankroll the White House’s squatter.

Archivarix on February 14, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Something kinda wrong here Ed.

Electrongod on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I see you have your good glasses on this a.m. Lol!

Bmore on February 14, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Something kinda wrong here Ed.

Electrongod on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

It’s a Muslim country. They don’t allow female centrifuges.

Bat Chain Puller on February 14, 2013 at 11:33 AM

To kill water bottles?

hillsoftx on February 14, 2013 at 11:34 AM

It’s a Muslim country. They don’t allow female centrifuges.

Bat Chain Puller on February 14, 2013 at 11:33 AM

At least exposed anyway.

Electrongod on February 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM

That would be enough to male 50,000 centrifuges, which would exponentially increase the speed of their uranium enrichment:

Something kinda wrong here Ed.

Electrongod on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I’m sure he meant that would be enough to MAIL 50,000 centrifuges.

Happy Nomad on February 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Gonna go out on a limb and say they’re not c*ck-rings.

Ben Hur on February 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Latest male enhancement device?

coldwarrior on February 14, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Ben Hur on February 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Some kind of perverts, we are.

coldwarrior on February 14, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Testosterone kinda heavy in here this morning, say what! ;-)

Scrumpy on February 14, 2013 at 11:43 AM

Not sure what this signifies, me not being an expert on centrifuges and newkiller stuff…

But I hope China is penal ized for this! Buahhhhhh ;-)

Scrumpy on February 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Bibi ain’t gonna keep waiting. Sooner or later, he’ll strike, whether the US likes it or not. Its an existenxial threat. The leading from behind don’t work too well in the ME. Just sayin.

tommy71 on February 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

@Scrumpy Say what? Testosterone? Never heard of it. ;-)

tommy71 on February 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

China has a seat on the UN Security Council, and is supposedly part of the effort to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. China should have exposed this attempt.

ROFLMAO!! You are funny.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 14, 2013 at 11:50 AM

China should have exposed this attempt. The fact that they didn’t, and that Iran went to China to purchase them in the first place, tells us plenty about China’s commitment to the non-proliferation effort in regard to Tehran.

China does realize that the mullahs dream of a global caliphate right? And global includes China. Do not arm someone who intends you harm, in the vain hope of being the last sheep eaten. Because you’ll still wind up eaten.

rbj on February 14, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Do not arm someone who intends you harm, in the vain hope of being the last sheep eaten. Because you’ll still wind up eaten.

rbj on February 14, 2013 at 11:52 AM

The enemy of my enemy is my friend…or at least the enemy of my enemy…it’s not about being eaten last, it’s about frustrating US/Western interests in the ME.

JFKY on February 14, 2013 at 11:56 AM

The enemy of my enemy is my friend…or at least the enemy of my enemy…it’s not about being eaten last, it’s about frustrating US/Western interests in the ME.

JFKY on February 14, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Exactly. China has no fear of the Persians or the muslims. China could take them out in a second. China does fear a West that loses its current cowardice and appeasement stance to every third-world hellhole around and, since the West seems to sink deeper into appeasement with every provocation the Chinese are happy to help the Persians along – especially while we have the Indonesian Dog-Eating Imbecile at the helm, helping to destroy the West from within, by the West’s own suicidal tendencies.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 14, 2013 at 12:02 PM

They’re going to film a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog?

The Rogue Tomato on February 14, 2013 at 12:03 PM

China? Afraid of being eaten, even if eaten last?

China, population 1.344, 130,000.

Iran, population 74,798,000.

China can sustain a lot more losses than Iran.

And, importantly, has the will to do so.

China knows this.

I suspect Iran does as well.

The West? Especially the Euros and the US?

Remember back when there were ‘rumors” that Iran might be fabricating the initial capability to maybe develop a nuclear weapons program and as soon as somebody suggested we or Israel do something to preempt that effort…everybody…I mean every body on both sides of the aisle…went nuts.

Can’t have another war.

Bush is a war monger.

Bush hates Moslems.

Bush wants to kill innocent Iranian children.

Let’s let sanctions have a chance to work.

Let’s not antagonize the Arab street. [Like the Arabs give a damn about the Persians anyway.]

Well, here we are, a mere decade later.

Worse off than we were ten years ago…when that evil George Bush was in charge.

And Iran?

Knows damn well that there is not a single thing the West is gonna do about it.

coldwarrior on February 14, 2013 at 12:09 PM

tells us plenty about China’s commitment to the non-proliferation effort in regard to Tehran

So, once again, what purpose does the United Nations serve? Let me rephrase, what positive value is it to the United States?

freedomfirst on February 14, 2013 at 12:38 PM

I was under the impression that China is facing its own challenges with Islamic militants. Why would they strengthen the known primary supporter of Jihad by supplying materials needed to create the alpha intimidation weapon?

in_awe on February 14, 2013 at 1:37 PM

I was under the impression that China is facing its own challenges with Islamic militants. Why would they strengthen the known primary supporter of Jihad by supplying materials needed to create the alpha intimidation weapon?

in_awe on February 14, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Russia is facing their own challenge with Islam as well and yet they back Iran.

Why did Bush back Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia after 911?

sharrukin on February 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM

I thought that Barry had China eating out of the palm of his hand, what with all his “Smart Diplomacy”.

GarandFan on February 14, 2013 at 1:51 PM

They’re going to film a live-action Sonic the Hedgehog?

The Rogue Tomato on February 14, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Now there’s a mental image! Thanks for the laugh, I needed it!

MelonCollie on February 14, 2013 at 2:17 PM

Russia is facing their own challenge with Islam as well and yet they back Iran.

Why did Bush back Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia after 911?

sharrukin on February 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Russia (Soviet Union) has supported Iran for decades because
- it increased its supply of oil (when its own reserves were largely untapped)
- a friendly Iran offered a route to the Persian Gulf for their military in a time of tension, and
- geo-politically they knew that supporting an activist Iran would tie down US resources in the Persian Gulf.

The US had been the largest supplier of weapons to Iran prior to the hostage taking when we were replaced by the Soviets. They also were reaping the fruits of an enormously rich contract to build Iran’s nuclear power plants.

As to George Bush and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – neither country was known to be a state sponsor of terrorism. As we came to learn, the ISI is up to its eyeballs in support for the Taliban, but abandoning Pakistan would leave us weakened with respect to helping maintain the security of Pakistan’s existing nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia is an exporter of the Wahabist sect of Islam which teaches fundamentalist tenets and is associated with some of the more virulent ideas used by jihadists. The US should have limited their access to the US and certainly proscribed the funding of the growing network of Wahabist mosques in the US. But we have the Freedom of Religion thingy that makes it tough to do that.

in_awe on February 14, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Couple of points about China:

China has plenty of Muslims; millions of them. Some of those Muslims will be owners / managers of factories and it is quite likely some of them will have sympathies with Iran.

Given the scale of the Chinese diaspora, there are Chinese business people everywhere who, for a fee, could facilitate the shipment of a container from China to Iran by the most circuitous, hard-to-trace route imaginable.

China is big and central control is not as complete as many in the west seem to imagine. An Iranian company could place orders with a Chinese company for “widgets” without the relevant departments in the central Chinese government becoming aware of what exactly those “widgets” consisted of.

The Iranians are not stupid either. It doesn’t seem likely to me that they would have approached the Chinese government, or even a Chinese company, directly. Assuming that the transaction did actually occur, I would expect there would have been lots of middle-men.

YiZhangZhe on February 14, 2013 at 3:44 PM

Simple. AhmaTinJihad heard about the magnets, remembered hearing about the “Lord of the Rings”, and put two and two together, natch.

dissent555 on February 14, 2013 at 4:36 PM