Monday, December 30, 2013

Ron Smith: Nuclear tit for tat

It looks as if the recent announcement (26 December) by the head of the Iranian atomic energy authority, that Iran will shortly begin to manufacture a new, improved design of uranium enrichment centrifuge is intended as a tit for tat response to the American congressional move to enhance sanctions on Iran whilst the Geneva discussions are proceeding.  

It especially looks like this, since the Iranian announcement is based on a motion before the Iranian parliament, supported, apparently, by nearly half of its membership.  Be that as it may, it is certainly necessary to ask ourselves what this development means, especially since the Iranian parliamentary motion is also advocating an increase in the present target level of enrichment from 20% to 60%.

To begin with, the development needs to be examined in the context of what the UN negotiators (P5+1) were looking for in the matter of an outcome.  Crucially they were looking for a limit of 5% in the degree of enrichment, which is all that is required for a civilian power-reactor.  They were also looking for Iran to relinquish its existing stockpiles of 20% enriched material, which was the highest degree of enrichment they were aware of as negotiations began.  The notion that the other party might now enrich to 60% suggests that they might not be taking this demand very seriously.

The prospect that they are also planning to increase the number of centrifuges, beyond the 19,000 they already have, points in the same direction.  Indeed, as I have indicated on numerous occasions in these columns, this is already 19,000 more than they actually need for civilian nuclear power production, since the builder of their nuclear plants (Russia) is also supplying the fresh fuel.

So perhaps we should see the Iranian announcement as mere posturing; a response to a resolution already tabled in the US congress to increase sanctions on Iran, in the event that Iran does not clearly renounce its nuclear weapon aspirations.  It might also be seen as a sop to hard-line interests in Iran, or even as a negotiating ploy.  If you have more on the table, you may seem to have more to trade, for what you really want.  But that is the problem.  The Geneva negotiations are not like commercial bargaining, or the resolution of difficult border disputes, where each side can give of its interests in order to come an agreement, which may not be a preferred outcome for either party.  In the Iranian case, it is not a matter of degree.  At the end of the negotiating process, Iran will either have a nuclear weapons programme, or it will not.  It will have the capacity to enrich to weapons-grade, with stockpiles of already enriched material, and all under an inadequate inspection regime (i.e.it will have ‘breakout capability’), or it will not.  In the event that Iran accepts that it must renounce its nuclear weapons programme, which would have to include a decommissioning of its plutonium production plant and unobstructed international inspection for all of its facilities, sanctions would be phased out, as good faith is demonstrated.  It is understood that these sanctions have been enormously damaging to Iranian society.  This is the quid pro quo that the UN negotiators should be offering, and all that they should be offering.

On the other hand, failure by Iran to accept these terms should result in reinforcement of the existing sanction regime, as the above-mentioned US Congressional resolution provides.  In this connection, it is notable that President Obama has threatened to veto any such resolution.  This announcement on his part has further strengthened the conviction in the US, and more widely, that the President desperately wants a foreign-policy success, or indeed, any policy success.  He is in such bad odour with the American people, including significant elements of his own party, over his health-care reform legislation and much else, that he will do anything, including settling with Iran on less than satisfactory terms.  A perception of this may be why the Iranians have recently floated the notion of separate talks with the individual governments of the P5+1 group, by which they most certainly mean the United States.

It remains to be seen what President Obama will do.  He has been much mocked for ‘leading from behind’, and for ‘red lines’, that may or may not be crossed, and I noted as early as 2010 that he had been judged ‘risk-averse’ by an expert strategic panel from Harvard University, in relation to this very issue (see my ‘Appeasement comes again’, April 2010).  On the other hand, in relation to Iranian nuclear capability, he has talked of ‘bottom lines’ and even hinted that military force ‘is not off the table’.  His allies, including important allies in the Middle East, are waiting.  The Geneva talks can be strung out a little longer (‘give diplomacy a chance’) but ultimately failure here will lead to a strengthened Iran and quite possibly a regional nuclear arms race.  Already, inter-cultural violence is killing thousands weekly across a region from Lebanon to Pakistan and extremism from this region threatens civilian populations across a large part of the world.  There are times when (as Shakespeare said) political leaders need to ‘screw their courage to the sticking place’.  This is one such time and Barak Obama is that leader.  Like Lady Macbeth we are waiting.

Happy New Year!

2 comments:

Angry Tory said...

No thanks to the current president, America has the resources to end the Iranian nuclear program and to ensure it can never be restarted, all costing no American lives. To quote American hero Curtis LeMay's prophetic words:

...Native annalists may look sadly back from the future on that period when we had the atomic bomb and the Russians didn't. Or when the Russians had aquired (through connivance and treachery of Westerns with warped minds) the atomic bomb - and yet still didn't have any stockpile of the weapons. That was the era when we might have destroyed Russia completely and not even skinned our elbows doing it.

America has exactly the same opportunity today with Iran.

Brian said...

Nuclear tit for tat.
After reading Dr. Smith’s account on the REAL progress in the attempt to secure Iran’s acceptance to limit its nuclear enrichment, it becomes very obvious that any serious negotiations with this Muslim state are bound to fail.
My question is why the West is still engaged it what has become a diplomatic morass from which no country will emerge with any creditability whatsoever. It seems that only Israel has the right attitude to deal with the threat of nuclear warheads raining down upon their country.
What does Iran hope to gain from this episode of confrontation with the U.N. in theory, and the West in practical terms? Is this just a blind from what is becoming the new more effective terrorist weapon in gaining an up-hand...namely Biological Warfare?
Terrorism as Lenin stated “Is to Terrorise”, and what more effective way than to use biological methods, such as new forms of bubonic plague, smallpox...the list is endless; with the help of mutation these new weapons constitute a real problem in detection.
Yet we are here in New Zealand constantly standing on our high horse demanding no surveillance, no spying, no SIS, together with the usual condemnation of the USA for engaging in such practices. One can but wonder that if the positions where reversed, whether the Chinese or Russian would be subjected to the same media/public attention?
The present “Iranian Appeasement Policy” by the West comes cheaply at the time; however the long term costs as history has proved time and time again, will be horrific.
To quote R.L. Stevenson
“At the end we all sit down to the Banquet of Consequences”.
Brian