Will Iran Dupe the World Again?
Op-Ed, The Jerusalem Post
November 11, 2004
Author: Brenda Shaffer, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 1999–2007; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Program, 2000–2005; Former Research Director, Caspian Studies Project, 2005–2007
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
European ministers are imploring Teheran to reinstate last year's violated no-nuke commitment
You have to hand it to Iranian diplomacy. Heads of state, scores of ministers, and senior representatives from a number of the world's most powerful nations are working ardently to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. Yet from diplomatic crisis to diplomatic crisis, Teheran continues to maintain the upper hand.
The current crisis is a milestone: The last meeting of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors resolved that if suspicions still existed by its November 25 meeting, Iran's case would be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
As November 25 approaches, intensive international diplomatic activity is taking place, with the United States promoting referral to the Security Council; while others, mainly Europe and China, are trying to avert Security Council action.
At this crucial juncture, only concerted navigation will likely reduce Iran's ability to cross the nuclear weapon threshold and secure its existing fissile material stock from terrorists.
A year ago, Teheran was on the brink of UN Security Council sanctions. In October 2003, on the eve of a similar IAEA deadline, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the UK flew to Teheran, and Iran committed itself to suspending uranium enrichment activities in exchange for shielding from Security Council action.
Now, after a year of Iranian noncompliance with this commitment and more discovered infractions of Iran's Nonproliferation Treaty and other nuclear obligations, the European ministers are back at the negotiating table, imploring Iran to re-agree to last year's violated commitment.
Iranian sources are reporting that a European-brokered deal is imminent. Only this time, not only are the European ministers willing to save Iran from the Security Council, but they have offered to sweeten the deal with a much sought-after trade agreement and potentially even a light water nuclear reactor.
A newly linked commitment in this reported form would not only reward Iran with a better deal after a year of continued nuclear violations, but could push Moscow away from the cooperative stance it has adopted.
In the past year and a half, Moscow's actions on the Iranian nuclear program have been responsible and constructive. Europe's offer to supply a light water reactor will be viewed by Moscow — and rightly so — as Europe's attempt to undercut Russia and make its own inroad into the Iranian nuclear market.
Under such conditions, Moscow will be pressed to preserve its economic position in Iran, thus reluctant to reduce its cooperation in the nuclear sphere.
The timing is excellent for Teheran to negotiate: The US military is bogged down in Iraq, the US presidential elections are over, and Iranian diplomacy is poised to play world powers off each other to gain more rewards for recommitting to the last agreement that it failed to keep.
What strategy would be effective toward this latest international crisis over Iran's nuclear weapons program?
First, China and Japan have considerable leverage over Iran and Europe on this issue, and must be enlisted. Both countries are negotiating mega-investment contracts in the Iranian energy sector — Japan in oil and China in natural gas. These two mammoth contracts are highly prized sources of investment for Teheran, as well as an important signal to Iran that business can continue as usual despite its nuclear transgressions.
Suspended negotiation on these contracts will affect Iran as well as Europe. After Iran's failure to fulfill its October 2003 commitments to the European foreign ministers, coupled with significant backtracking this year on democratization, the Europeans should be careful not to be the only ones helping Iran escape Security Council action. Washington should lead the effort to bring China and Japan on to the team.
Next, all concerned nations should coordinate policy efforts on a secure control structure over Iran's fissile materials to ensure that they do not reach the hands of terrorists — either inadvertently or intentionally.
Iran's ultimate possession of nuclear weapons is only part of the danger.
A more serious and immediate threat — one that the US and Europe share — is that Iran's nuclear materials are scattered about the country in various locations. An inner circle within the regime controls these facilities. Most of the political leadership — including President Khatami — does not have a clue as to the whereabouts of all of the Iranian nuclear program's sites, never mind exercising any control over them.
In a time of regime chaos in Iran, terrorists may either acquire unsecured nuclear materials themselves or have such bomb ingredients transferred to them for financial gain by fleeing regime hardliners.
Furthermore, President George Bush should not be caught off guard by the Iranian nuclear program. The November 25 meeting is both a turning point and an opportunity. The trigger mechanism is in place — the IAEA will refer Iran to the Security Council if suspicions are not allayed. Post-election elation and cabinet turnover should not distract the Bush administration from exploiting this favorable circumstance.
Washington's efforts to keep Russia, China and Japan on board can help turn the November 25 IAEA meeting into a useful instrument that can put political and economic constraints in place on Iran. These constraints can complicate and slow down Iran's drive to nuclear weapons, but probably not stop it.
When crafting the next policy stage, concerned governments should consider not only stopping the budding nuclear weapons program but preventing the loss of nuclear materials to terrorist organizations.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Security Program at Harvard University and the Harvey and Connie Krueger scholar at the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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