Iran: Still a Difficult Nut to Crack

The current negotiating deadlock between the P5+1 (UK, France, Germany, Russia, France, EU, and the U.S.) and Iran remains, but with the hope that wiser views might still prevail as we edge towards the semi-breakout deadline of enough highly enriched uranium above the 20% level to build a bomb.

This is not likely to happen this year and Iran might not take that “last step” to actually build such a weapon. But the danger and its risks remain. President Obama himself has said that would not be permitted– the so-called “red line.” Israel has been making noises that it might act with a preemptive strike, even alone – a move that might have worse consequences for Israel in the long term and likely immediately cause major risk of major conflicts aimed at Israel by multi-parties.

In short, not a very nice picture for either Iran or Israel or for the Western countries or for peace in the Middle East.

Coming up shortly is the International Atomic Energy Agency report to be given to its board of governors on Iran’s nuclear program. Much of that report has already been leaked to the press and its outline indicates that Iran is making progress in its uranium enrichment program. The next meeting of the IAEA board of governors is Sept. 10 when the implications of the report will be discussed and perhaps recommendations on next steps made. Despite progress on enrichment experts believe that Iran will not be in a position of having an actual effective weapon before the end of this year and into next year and some believe it would take two years. Intelligence experts also believe that we would be able to detect such a “breakout” if it occurred, and still affirm that the decision to actually make such a weapons has not be taken.

In the U.S. the right wing-neocon crazies of the Republican Party are doing their best to again “saber-rattle,” as they did in the unneeded and disastrous Iraq war. Romney just said that Iran with nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable” (Frankly, not much different from Obama’s “red-line” remark.)

The simple fact is such a “war” would be a shared tragedy for all including Iran. No sane country would either attack Iran before an actual “real time” threat, and Iran would be totally suicidal to build a nuclear bomb and its delivery system knowing that act itself would spell a conflict that would bring destruction. The consequences are beyond rational contemplation. So that is the conundrum and the risk for all parties.

As this is written the so-called “nonaligned” conference is opening in Tehran and “surprise” Iran says it is not seeking nuclear weapons and conference says it wants to rid the world of such weapons. Yet IAEA experts in the new report see evidence of a coverup by Iran of a site said to be related to its weapons program before IAEA inspections.

As we have written earlier there is always the change of miscalculation on the part of Iran and mistakes by others that can create a crisis which would undoubtedly be a tragedy for all.

There are however ways out. The problem is for all sides to accept some compromise that saves face for Iraq and still ends up ensuring that Iran does not become a nuclear weapons power. Whatever the final compromise would have to ensure that the world has high confidence that there is almost no chance of Iran gaining nuclear weapons. There have been a number of reasonable proposals from both national governments and outside experts on how this can be done. Iran would have to gain some advantages including on easing sanctions and continued development of fully peaceful nuclear power efforts under inspections and the international community would have to gain assured security from any Iran WMD threat. A regional security pact also is a possible mechanism for the necessary compromises.

So far the contending parties have not yet taken this road to a stable peace and mutual stable security for all. One problem is domestic politics among the contending parties especially in Israel with the conservative government pushing the preemptive “war” option, and in America, with a belligerent stance on Iran by Romney pushed by his key financial backers and fanatical neocon advisors. Iran also needs to seem strong against so-called external threats to maintain its own support internally of its “hard line’ supporters.

The path now is for the imposed UN and U.S./EU sanctions to do their work and their eventual impact to bring Iran to the negotiating table. They are in fact starting to work with large reductions in exports of Iranian oil which is the main driver of Iran’s economy. The question is whether any progress can be made before the elections in the U.S. That is doubtful, but if I were the Iranian leader I’d want to act swiftly given the alignment of forces and likely high risks.

We welcome your comments.

IAEA Report on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program

There are few real surprises in the just published IAEA report that Iran is carrying out prohibited nuclear weapons programs. The question after all the dust settles and the policy makers and media commentators have their say on what this really means for our security and for the region’s, is what can now be done? Clearly the thrust of this effort poses very real dangers of a great magnitude.

The goals are to first stop Iran’s on-going weapons programs and second to get the illegal (under the NPT) weapons development capacity dismantled – if possible by peaceful means.

The first obstacle to a peaceful international effort to this end will be the possible, even likely, lack of cooperation by China, Russia, Cuba, and a host of developing nations who sit on the IAEA Executive Committee.  The IAEA Board of Governors is meeting on November 17-18, and will consider a draft resolution censuring Iran for violating its non-proliferation commitments. The question is whether, without a consensus, any meaningful action will result that will sway Iran’s clear decision to move towards weapons development. The Board’s 35 members may simply condemn these activities but that will have no impact on the realities on the ground. Let’s be frank: Iran’s warhead development activities are both extensive and deliberate.

The reality is that we still have on the table a defined range of unsatisfactory and unpredictable in consequences, options in response.  The first is to continue our limited sanctions (which have clearly proved ineffective), or second, to impose multilaterally or bilaterally major economic/financial and technological sanctions that would essentially constitute a virtual “blockade” and isolate the nation from the rest of the world. The third option is to bomb the nuclear weapons facilities, which is an actual act of war.  We would pursue, this in the very last event, realizing the consequences, costs, and uncertainty of all-out war in the region.

I would not choose now the last kinetic option until it is clear that other avenues are having no impact.  Any option is going to be difficult and will require international cooperation. We will only get that through diplomacy and tact.  But half measures are unlikely to stop an already belligerent Iranian regime.

Normally, a combination of “carrots” and “sticks” is the preferred approach most likely to gain agreement.  The existential question is: can we and others live with a nuclear armed Iran or not? Clearly, continued nuclear proliferation will likely result one day in the actual use of such weapons, which is NOT acceptable.  We are living with a nuclear armed North Korea uncomfortably and have yet to decide how to finally deal with that reality!  Better be cautious than reckless as we have been in Iraq. But this not a question we can safely avoid.

By Harry C. Blaney III.