"With great honor, I declare that as of today our dear country has joined the nuclear club of nations and can produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale," said Iranian "President" Mahmoud "Mad Jad"Ahmadinejad, today. "Vice President" Gholamereza Aghazadeh (spell that one without looking !) added: "[n]ow we are entering the mass production of centrifuges and starting to launch industrial scale enrichment, another step toward the flourishing of Islamic Iran."
Count me a skeptic. It's possible Mad Jad and crew are on the level, but there's a good possibility they are not. In any case, even if the Iranians can already make nuclear fuel in big batches, a feat which is definitely Rocket Science -- to get any military use out of it, they still have to produce a warhead design, put it into production, and mate it with a delivery system. Each of those steps is technically quite difficult.
Maybe the Iranians have squared all of these circles, despite the best efforts of the US and some others to cut off financing and necessary supplies from abroad. It's certainly possible, but I doubt it. So why are the Iranians doing this -- making this particular claim -- now ?
Diplomatic reasons, of course. From where Mad Jad sits, Iran probably has as much diplomatic leverage with the interested Great Powers (US, EU, Britain, Russia and China) now, as it is likely to get. With time, the Iranian position is quite probably going to deteriorate.
The US has a beleaguered, weak President, who can't even keep the female speaker of his parliament (forgive me the casual sexism, but that's probably how it looks in Persia), from making nice with the US's enemy, Syria. The Israelis (America's puppet, so the Iranians think), are also led by a weak Prime Minister, and have their hands full with the Syrians. In any event, the Iranians are probably sure that the Democrats, for the moment, will make sure Bush does nothing.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Blair is, if anything, more reviled at home than Bush is in America, and is on his way out. The British have just endured the kidnapping of British military personnel by Iran, complete with a televised auto de fe ritual -- without more than a squeak of protest. The British Lion is toothless. The Euros and Chinese really don't care about Iran, as long as they keep making money, as long as the United States is kept cut down to size, and, in the Euros case, as long as the Iranian secret services don't incite the local Muslims to go on car-burning rampages.
But there are clouds on the horizon. For the Iranians, the most ominous has to be the stiffer Russian attitude towards the Iranians since mid March. There are a couple possible reasons for this: first, perhaps the GRU has given Putin evidence he believes concerning the real objectives of the Iranian nuclear program. A Muslim nuke would not be something the Russians would be too happy about. Also, there is the question of money. The Russians have given the Iranians quite a bit of aid -- both military, and on supposedly non-military projects, such as nuclear reactors. The weak point of the Mullah state is financial -- the Iranians spend quite a lot of foreign exchange importing refined gasoline, consumer goods, military equipment, etc. I wonder how they're doing on paying the Russians ?
Also, Iraq, at some point will settle down, whether under the American installed regime, or under some other government. No doubt the Iranians want to grab what they can, in terms of a Shiite puppet state, or friends running a few provinces, but they are quite likely to buy themselves long term trouble with Sunni Islamic states -- who have more money to run a cold war than does Iran.
Finally, Bush is down, but he can't be counted out. Maybe the quasi-socialists in the Democratic Party can keep him corralled, but maybe not.
All things being equal, there's a lot to be said for the Iranians trying to achieve "nuclear power in possession" status now -- whatever the actual status of their nuclear programs. Once Iran is recognized as a nuclear power, the political pressures in Europe and the US against doing anything to destabilize the mullah regime will become overwhelming. Iran will have succeeded in acquiring North Korean status: a virtual hunting license to make trouble where it wants to, without fear of any retaliation, for fear of provoking a "nuclear power."