Monday, October 05, 2009

Good News From Iran

Iran sidetracks the world


There has been so much good news about Iran's nuclear weapons program lately that it's almost churlish to expose that news for what it really is - hollow and ephemeral.

Teheran has offered to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, where it will be processed before being returned for use in medical research and generating electricity. Yesterday, Iran also agreed to allow international inspectors to visit its previously secret - and still unfinished - uranium enrichment plant at Qom on October 25.

President Barack Obama said that the uranium export offer was "a step toward building confidence that Iran's program is in fact peaceful." Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said that if Iran honored its pledge to export its fuel for processing, Washington's proliferation concerns would be partly alleviated.

But Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center asserted that "the fuel France and Russia will send back to Iran will be far more weapons usable, being enriched with 19.75 percent nuclear weapons-grade uranium, than the 3.5 percent enriched brew Iran currently has on hand."

Experts say that uranium needs to be enriched at 90% for use in a nuclear bomb.

So instead of talking about when Iran will suspend its fuel-making activities, the mullahs have cleverly shifted the conversation to what their export pledge means - even though it would not take effect for a year or two.

And just to muddy the waters, Iran's ambassador to Britain, Mehdi Saffare, a member of its delegation to the Geneva talks with the Security Council "five plus Germany," insisted that the idea of sending Iran's enriched uranium out of the county had "not been discussed yet."

ON SATURDAY, The New York Times reported (elaborating on a story carried last month by the Associated Press) that dissident experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency have tentatively concluded that Iran has "sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable… implosion nuclear device."

Their report, "Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Program," also argues that the country is aiming to place a nuclear payload on its Shahab 3 missile - which can reach parts of Europe.

The only genuinely good news is that "Overall the Agency does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means of integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 missile with any confidence that it would work…."

Still, the IAEA specialists believe that though Iran hasn't detonated a device, the elaborate nature of its experiments gives it confidence that its bomb will explode.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing IAEA chief, has spiked the report. Yesterday, in Teheran he talked about how Iran has supposedly shifted from confrontation toward "transparency and cooperation."

With IAEA dissidents, and the intelligence services of Britain, France, Germany and, of course, Israel arguing that Iran is racing toward a bomb, Obama has instructed the US intelligence community to reevaluate its controversial 2007 finding that Teheran had halted efforts to design a nuclear weapon back in 2003.

NO MATTER how the US intelligence reassessment goes, or how Iran's export gambit plays out, or what happens when the inspectors visit Qom, at the end of the day - and in keeping with the mullahs' strategy - Iran will have bought time.

Obama insists his administration is "not interested in talking for the sake of talking. If Iran does not take steps in the near future to live up to its obligations, then... we are prepared to move towards increased pressure."

Of course, the president would have greater credibility with the mullahs if the heightened sanctions his administration insinuated would be forthcoming in September had actually been implemented.

At this point, there are only three possibilities: (a) Iran will build a bomb; (b) draconian sanctions, spearheaded by Washington, will persuade Teheran to abort its program; (c) military intervention will significantly set the mullahs back.

Assuming Obama realizes that the second option is by far the most preferable, he must not allow Teheran to sidetrack the discussion.

All the world needs to know is when Iran will stop enriching uranium, and when it will end its weapons program.

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