Iran nuke deadline passes, traces of weapons-grade uranium found (Update: Traces don't match previous samples)

I’m going to stop blogging this subject. I’ve written the same g-ddamned post 15 times now: Iran’s still enriching uranium, western diplomats are expressing “grave concerns,” the UN’s afraid it might have to act, Russia and China are hedging, Ahmadinejad says it’s their inalienable right, the Pentagon thinks they’re 10 years away from the bomb but they can’t be sure, etc etc. Then Sy Hersh puts out a piece in the New Yorker with 20 anonymous sources and Russert has him on Meet the Press to talk about it and a new round starts. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So here’s the latest wash. The deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium passed this afternoon. The IAEA issued a new report today confirming, to the surprise of no one, that they’ve actually resumed enrichment within the past few days. And something else, too:

The IAEA report said its inspectors in mid-August found traces of highly-enriched uranium, of potential use for atom bombs, in a container at Iran’s Karaj Waste Storage Facility. The IAEA asked Iran to explain the source of the contamination.

“Additional questions about the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program have arisen during recent inspections,” said a senior official close to the IAEA.

But there was no “smoking gun”.

It could be that the equipment was already contaminated with HEU when they bought it (from Pakistan, presumably, or on the black market). The military says we’ve got at least five years until we need to start worrying about this. Stay tuned for the Rodham-Clinton administration’s airstrikes on the reactors in 2011, which will be good airstrikes. Unlike Bush’s, which would be decidedly evil.

The crazy Chamberlainian neocons at NRO don’t want to wait:

We would be fools to take comfort in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, released today, that suggests Iran’s enrichment activities are proceeding slowly and producing uranium of a quality too low for weaponization. Given enough time, the regime will build its nukes. The paramount mission of the Bush administration in its remaining two years should therefore be twofold: to keep the mullahs from going nuclear, and to speed their fall from power. Unfortunately, these objectives do not admit of a single solution. We should redouble our aid the Iranian democracy movement, but we quite obviously cannot assume that the revolution will come before the bomb…

[A]n Iranian bomb would likely produce a regional arms race and multiply the number of Middle Eastern nuclear powers. This too would raise the likelihood that a weapon of mass destruction will fall into terrorist hands; and by making it harder to determine where a detonated bomb had originated and retaliate against the guilty party, it would give the jihad that much more incentive to push the button.

Bush has made forfending that possibility his presidency’s raison d’être. We believe he means it. But we wonder how much longer he will wait before abandoning “solutions” that are anything but.

Bush is trying to put together a coalition of western countries to impose their own sanctions on Iran in case Russia and China torpedo the eventual resolution in the Security Council. Sounds like it’s working:

Eventually, punitive measures might expand to restrict travel by Iran’s leaders and limit the country’s access to global financial markets, according to diplomatic officials involved in the talks who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Aside from the effort in the Council, the Bush administration is also seeking to persuade European financial institutions to end new lending to Iran. Some Swiss banks have already quietly agreed to limit their lending, American officials say.

It was quiet. It’s not anymore.

Brave, brave Sir Robin, who stands more to lose from an Iranian financial crunch than perhaps anyone else, celebrated his birthday in hiding today. Elsewhere, Carter’s going to be a good joe and give the mullahs the propaganda photo op they’ve been pining for by sitting down for “talks” with stooge former president Mohammed Khatami when he visits the U.S. next month. It’s a solid precedent; when the Democrats are back in power, let’s be sure to have our guys acting like a government-in-exile too when the ruling administration’s bete noires blow into town.

Update: Hitchens was on Hardball tonight to straighten Norah O’Donnell out about a few Iranian-related subjects. Spruiell has the video.

Update: Two points. First, it appears I erred in the title of this post by equating highly enriched uranium with “weapons grade.” The two aren’t synonymous. I apologize for the error.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news, courtesy of the New York Times:

Inspectors have found [highly enriched] uranium, which at extreme enrichment levels can fuel bombs, twice in the past. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at least some of those samples came from contaminated equipment that Iran had obtained from Pakistan.

But in this case, the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples, an official familiar with the inspections said, raising questions about their origin…

The particles were taken from the container for testing a year ago, but the agency obtained the result only a few weeks ago because of the limited capacity of its verification laboratory…

But Thursday’s disclosure was different, diplomats said. “This is the first case with no known linkage,” said one European diplomat who could not be quoted by name because of diplomatic rules. “But we have to be careful because over time these things can be explained away, at least in theory.”…

The report did not specify the level of the particles or whether they were weapons-grade quality. The official who was discussing the report refused to be drawn into that discussion, suggesting that such a definition was meaningless. “You cannot say weapons-grade, but very high,” he said.

Update: WaPo thinks it knows where the new traces came from. Let’s hope they’re right:

Previous traces were found to have been the result of used and discarded centrifuge equipment the Iranians bought from Pakistan. Officials at the IAEA said privately yesterday that the new contamination appears to be from old spent fuel the Iranians moved out of harm’s way during their eight-year war with Iraq.

Forgive a possibly stupid question, but how and why would highly enriched uranium have contaminated Iranian equipment 20 years ago?