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Talking to Tehran

Dec 2, 2017
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After the first round of nuclear talks with Iran last week, we were almost expecting someone to declare “peace in our time.”

So far, that hasn’t happened, but there was plenty of positive spin after the initial meeting between Iranian negotiators and their western counterparts. Depending on which account you believe, Iran has agreed to “outsource” some of its enrichment activities to Russia and continue negotiations with the west. Surely, that’s a reason for optimism, the MSM has declared.

And, the news gets even better. Tehran will allow a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its previously-secret enrichment facility near Qom in late October. Mohammed El-Baradei, the IAEA Director who’s never actually discovered a rogue state nuclear program—let alone deterred one—is encouraged by recent events in Iran. Shouldn’t we share his optimism?

Or, would the U.S. be better off by taking a more measured (read: suspicious) approach? Writing in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton argued that our position is now less secure, despite the recent thaw with Tehran. As he observed, moving part of the enrichment process to Russia actually undercuts international efforts to prevent Iran’s production of nuclear material. It also ensures that a portion of Tehran’s uranium stockpile will survive, in the event of a military strike by the U.S. or Israel.

There’s also the unsettling matter of how this diplomatic effort suddenly came together. After stalling for years, the Iranians suddenly decide to sit down with the U.S. and its partners to discuss their nuclear program. They are also permitting an IAEA inspection of a facility that was previously undeclared—in direct violation of international nuclear accords.

Why the sudden rapprochement? By talking to the west, Tehran believes it can forestall a possible military attack. As long as negotiations are underway, the mullahs judge, the U.S. will prevent the Israelis from launching a preemptive strike. Obviously, there are limits to Israel’s patience. In his recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced Tel Aviv’s long-standing vow; if the international community fails to act (a virtual certainty), Israel is prepared to go it alone.

But the window for striking Iran is closing rapidly. Discovery of the Qom facility affirms what many in the intelligence community have long feared: Tehran has successfully dispersed its nuclear program, making it virtually impossible to eliminate the threat in a single strike. Rest assured, there are more “undiscovered” facilities scattered across Iran, contributing research, materials and technology to Iran’s nuclear effort.

More disturbingly, those efforts are about to achieve their desired goal. That leaked annex to the recent IAEA report on Tehran’s nuclear program concludes that Iran has the technical data and expertise to build a viable nuclear device. Completion of Tehran’s first A-bomb is only a matter of months away. Once that milestone is achieved, it will become easier for Iran to produce more nuclear weapons and disperse them around the country. At that point, the value of a military strike—as a means of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat—is virtually nil.

Put another way, the Iranian leadership is simply playing for time. And the current round of talks offers perfect cover. While members of the striped-pants set exchange pleasantries in Geneva, Tehran’s nuclear scientists and engineers are sprinting towards the finish line. At this point, we don’t see any obstacles in their path—with the possible exception of the Israeli Air Force.

To his credit, Neville Chamberlain realized (in the end) that he had been duped by Hitler and led his nation into war against the Nazi threat. It will be interesting to see if current leaders are capable of similar admissions–assuming they ever admit Tehran’s duplicity.

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