April 1, 2012

Diplomacy and the Iranian nuclear issue

Former Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian

As the United States considers imposing tougher sanctions on Iran over its refusal to adhere to a series of United Nations resolutions about its uranium enrichment program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned the Iranians that time for a diplomatic solution is fast running out. This is the most succinct warning delivered by the secretary in a long time, and is long overdue.

Another round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, the so-called "P5+1," is scheduled for mid-April in Istanbul. Most Middle East observers, this one included, believe this is just another stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians, much as they have done for the past several years.

The last round of talks ended when the two sides could not agree on a subject for the talks. It's bad enough when negotiations fail due to disagreement over the subject being discussed, but when supposed professional diplomats cannot reach an agreement on what subject to discuss, it borders on absurdity.

Mrs. Clinton's words: "We're going in with one intention: to resolve the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Our policy is one of prevention, not containment. We are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We enter into these talks with a sober perspective about Iran's intentions. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate by its actions that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results."

I predict that at the April talks, the Iranians will argue that their enrichment program is not up for discussion, effectively wasting everyone's time except theirs. While they agree to talks and try to give the impression that they truly want a diplomatic solution, the centrifuges keep spinning and they pile up more uranium. The Iranians don't want a diplomatic solution, in fact, they don't want any solution. Wanting a solution would indicate that they believe there is an actual problem. They do not believe their quest for a nuclear weapon is a problem. Their repeated agreements to enter into talks is merely an attempt to delay long enough until they achieve their objective. Am I the only one that gets that?

Now let's look at recent remarks on the subject made by former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Musavian, who is now a visiting scholar at Princeton University. His proposed solution to the Iranian nuclear issue: "As soon as the P5+1 recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium, there will be an opportunity to break the nine-year deadlock over the nuclear program."

With a brilliant observation like that, it's hard to believe this guy has a job at a university the caliber of Princeton. Okay, Hossein, let's take this slowly. First, Iran does have the right to enrich uranium. However, it does not have the right to build a nuclear weapon, as long as it remains a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The treaty allows for member states to develop nuclear energy programs as long as they can demonstrate that their nuclear programs are not being used for the development of nuclear weapons. That is what the United Nations is asking of the Iranians - demonstrate that its program is not for the development of nuclear weapons. When Iran does that, the deadlock - and sanctions - are over. The ball is in Iran's court.

You see, Hossein, the problem the Iranians have is that they cannot demonstrate that their program is not being used for the development of nuclear weapons. Why not? Simple, because the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapons capability. There is no other explanation for their program. It is much too small for a nuclear energy program, and the necessary infrastructure to support such a huge program has not been seriously considered since the days of the Shah. If Iran were to use every one of its nuclear facilities to generate electricity, it would produce less energy than what Iran's oil wells flare off as waste.

Nuclear weapons analysts at the Los Alamos National Labs - the professionals at this sort of thing - have looked at the size of Iran's program and concluded it is exactly the right size for a nuclear weapons program. In reality, it can be nothing else.

The Iranians know it, the Israelis know it and with a few notable exceptions in the U.S. intelligence community, we know it. The real question for our diplomats is why are we going through this kabuki dance? The Iranians are not going to give up their nuclear weapons program because of a "diplomatic breakthrough" in Istanbul later this month.

Diplomacy has failed and will continue to fail. Tougher sanctions will certainly hurt the Iranian people, but will they be effective in slowing the nuclear program? Hard to say. The only sanction that has any chance of working it to prohibit Iran from exporting oil. Do we have the political will to do it? Doubtful. We'll just continue to talk about having talks, probably right up to the point where Israel believes the rest of the world is not committed to solving the crisis and takes action on its own.

The Israelis have heard both Secretary Clinton and President Obama say the words that we will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, but so far, it's all talk. I guess that's called diplomacy.