Is any deal better than no deal on Iran’s nukes?
May 16, 2012
May 15, 2012
Number 05/12 #04
This Update features three pieces on the nuclear talks with Iran, scheduled to resume next week after a five week hiaitus – two of them focusing on the dangers of any agreement which does not adequately block Iran’s ability to quickly build nuclear weapons whenever a decision to do so is reached.
First up is Iran scholar and recent visitor to Australia Emanuele Ottolenghi, who looks at some history related to the Iranian nuclear program to make the case that an agreement that does not take account of Iran’s past weaponisation achievements will leave Iran able to build nuclear weapons. He makes a clear case that the timing and design of the program make it very obvious that it was always military in intent, and moreover, the Iranians themselves maintain that they only need enriched uranium in order to manufacture weapons, with all other technology already in hand. Ottolenghi also places in context the supposed anti-nuclear weapons Fatwa that the Iranians frequently tout as proof of their peaceful intentions. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Next up, former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and Yoel Guzansky, his colleague from Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, lay out in detail the Israeli perspective on an Iranian nuclear agreement. They provide a list of what a good deal with Iran should include, as well as what a bad deal might look like. The two also discuss the differences between the American and Israel approaches to the Iranian question, and Israeli worries that the US could agree to something that looks acceptable in terms of Washington’s “red lines”, while creating a dangerous and unacceptable situation for Israel. For the complete arguments from two very knowledgeable Israeli analysts, CLICK HERE. Another very interesting, insider Israeli view on the situation vis a vis a nuclear Iran – including what a nuclear agreement must contain – comes from Dan Meridor, Israel’s Deputy PM with responsibility for intelligence.
Finally, Anshel Pfeffer from Haaretz summarises the findings of one of the more important reports on the Iranian nuclear question in recent years – “Rethinking Our Approach to Iran’s Search for the Bomb” by Anthony Cordesman, the highly-regarded American strategic analyst who heads the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Among other things, the report makes it clear that anyone who continues to argue that Iran is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons and is only seeking “nuclear capabilities” is “committing an act of willful delusion.” Further, the report makes it clear that the current focus on getting Iran to curtail its uranium enrichment is unlikely in itself to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, which it will still be able to pursue in a variety of ways. For this summary in full, CLICK HERE. The full CSIS report is here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Iran is caught again cleaning up a military site at Pachin suspected of housing facilities to test nuclear triggers. Plus an illustration has emerged of the facilities which appears to confirm these suspicions.
- Washington Institute specialist Patrick Clawson argues that sanctions are no more than a stopgap, and the only real resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff requires major changes to the Iranian regime.
- A report on the power struggle the nuclear talks are creating between Iranian President Ahmedinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei.
- More on Khamanei’s likely calculations comes from Washington Institute Iranian politics expert Mehdi Khalaji. Meanwhile, veteran British journalist Con Coughlin reviews Khamanei’s rise to office and suggests he may simply not be up to the role he is now playing.
- A New York Times report that Iranian officials are claiming success in stalling on the nuclear program via the talks as well as gaining international approval of their nuclear efforts. Jonathan Toben looks at the significance of what they are saying.
- Former senior White House staffer Elliot Abrams and former US congressman Robert Wexler offering differing analyses of the case for and urgency for an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
- New allegations that current Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was involved in nuclear procurement efforts in his previous job as head of an Iranian university.
- In a sign the sanctions are biting, Iranian oil production is at a 20 year low.
- Iran appears to deliberately tweak its neighbours by re-inforcing its claim of sovereignty over the disputed Persian Gulf island of Abu Musa.
- Iran manouevres to replace Iraq’s top Shi’ite leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who has been a force for democracy, with their own candidate.
- A new report on Iranian covert penetration of Latin America from terrorism expert Matthew Levitt.
- Veteran Australian Jewish leader (now living in Israel) Isi Leibler discusses his encounter with controversial author Peter Beinart.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Sharyn Mittelman on how Israeli models may be becoming role models internationally on the issue of body image.
- Or Avi-Guy has more on the Palestinian Authority media freedom deficit.
- Ahron Shapiro comments on what we can learn from the latest statements and polls coming out of the Egyptian presidential election campaign.
- How last week’s budget will effect Australia’s aid commitments to the Middle East.
- Allon Lee’s latest Media Week column.
As talks resume in Baghdad on May 23 negotiators may inadvertently endorse a deal that will leave Iran, in due course, with the ability to build the weapon it has always coveted
By Emanuele Ottolenghi
Haaretz, May.07, 2012
In the same week that Iranian nuclear negotiators in Istanbul mentioned an alleged fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning nuclear weapons to offer reassurances about Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions – 12 Iranian nuclear scientists reportedly attended a failed ballistic missile test in North Korea.
This is not the first time Iranian nuclear scientists have shown an uncanny interest in military applications. In May 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that a scientist employed at the Institute for Applied Physics of Tehran had included in his curriculum vitae “a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test.” Iran’s answer about their scientist’s interest in a plutonium bomb’s nuclear explosion was elusive – and IAEA inspectors were not allowed to interview him.
Iran may now protest that its scientists’ presence had nothing to do with fitting a nuclear payload into a missile warhead – maybe they were just there on holiday. Yet, these coincidences, alongside Iran’s decade-long cover-up of its nuclear activities, are telltale signs of a military program, not a civil one.
As if this was not enough, solemn references to Khamenei’s fatwa came only days after Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, revealed in a Boston Globe opinion piece that Iran had reached ‘breakout capacity’ in 2002: “It is too late” said Mousavian “to demand that Iran suspend enrichment activities; it mastered enrichment technology and reached break-out capability in 2002 and continues to steadily improve its uranium enrichment capabilities.”
Mousavian was pitching a compromise proposal to a Western audience, but he also unwittingly shed light on Iran’s nuclear progress and intentions. U.S. officials insist that Iran has not yet decided whether it wants nuclear weapons – and are confident that, if this decision is ever made, they will be able to know it in time to preempt and thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
When the U.S. Department of National Intelligence published its 2007 Iran National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), it followed this logic when it postulated that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Even assuming this information was accurate – and successive IAEA reports offer abundant reasons for scepticism – the NIE never fully explained why the programme was halted. The standard assumption was that the U.S. invasion of Iraq had made Iranian leaders concerned that U.S. forces would now turn their attention to Tehran.
This approach would postpone a decision to some future date – but leave open the path to nuclear weapons. Yet, this is flawed logic, because it does not take into account how advanced the program was when it was allegedly suspended.
An answer to this question is even more critical to gauging Iran’s intentions than the motives behind the decision.
If Mousavian’s observation that Iran had “reached break-out capability in 2002” is true, then Iran’s weapons program was ‘halted’, not because its leaders’ resolve wavered, but rather because it had achieved the goal of producing a nuclear weapon short of the fissile material which the enrichment programme would later yield.
Having become the focus of intense international scrutiny on account of its previously undeclared nuclear activities, Iran stopped its efforts to build a nuclear weapon (very advanced), concentrating instead on enrichment (not advanced enough), which is critical for nuclear weapons but can be plausibly justified within the framework of a civil program.
This explains also why Iran, with its Natanz enrichment facility exposed, sought to build a new, secret underground enrichment facility near Qom, whose ‘size and configuration’ as U.S. President Obama said, ‘is inconsistent with a peaceful program.’
What about the fatwa then?
In 1984, amidst the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war, the late Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the reassembling of the Shah’s military nuclear team. Khomeini had that program disbanded in 1979 on Islamic grounds. But he reversed himself – and if there ever was a fatwa, the Islamic Republic’s founding father revoked it there and then.
Taken at the height of an existential war, this decision was clearly aimed at military, not peaceful civil nuclear developments.
As talks resume in Baghdad on May 23, negotiators should not lose sight of this fact – or else they may endorse a deal that will leave Iran, in due course, with the ability to build the weapon it has always coveted.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington DC and the author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Corps (FDD Press, 2011)
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Amos Yadlin, Yoel Guzansky
The National Interest, May 3, 2012
An additional round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran about the nuclear issue is due to take place in Baghdad in May. Despite a decade of unproductive dialogue, it is important to both sides that negotiations take place: Iran seeks to prevent even harsher sanctions, while President Obama wishes to postpone difficult decisions at least until after the presidential elections. Both parties want to prevent an Israeli strike.
Although the opening positions were worlds apart, negotiations are designed to narrow this divide. In any possible deal, the assumption is that Iran will be granted legitimacy to enrich uranium on its soil. Thus, the difference between a “good deal” and a “bad deal” lies in parameters of Iran’s enrichment that would prevent it from breaking out towards nuclear weapons. The idea is to stop the clock or even reverse it, thereby allowing for nonmilitary options to stop Iran’s nuclearization to be fully exhausted.
A deal with the following parameters would be considered good: significant limitations on continuing enrichment until Iran has regained the trust of the international community; removing most of the enriched uranium from Iran, both that enriched to 3.5 percent as well as that enriched to 20 percent, closing the facility dug into the mountainside near Qom; signing the IAEA “additional protocol”; and providing satisfying explanations for the questions that remain between the IAEA and Iran. Such a deal would ensure that an Iranian breakout to nuclear weapons would be a long process and thus place Iran outside the “immunity zone.” It would not meet all past demands made on Iran, but it would be better than the alternative of Iran having the bomb or being bombed. However, the probability of Iran accepting such an agreement is very low.
A bad deal, one that the Iranians are likely to offer and that the international community would be tempted to accept, would include explicit legitimacy for Iran enriching uranium on its soil up to the 5 percent level but would not include removal of most of the already-enriched uranium from within Iran’s borders. The bad deal also would include not limiting the number or type of centrifuges and enrichment sites. Iran then would be able to continue securing its sites in a way that would make damaging them much harder than it is at present. With such a deal, Iran would be able to improve its chances of breaking out toward nuclear weapons in a relatively short time after making the decision to do so.
Should the sides agree to this, even with some modifications, it would legitimize an Iranian nuclear posture in which Tehran remains dangerously on the nuclear threshold. Concurrently, the pressure on Iran would end, sanctions would be suspended or eased, and Iran would avoid the danger of a military strike.
Israel would find it hard to live with a situation in which Iran could at any moment decide to break out toward rapid nuclear-weapons manufacturing thanks to an extensive nuclear infrastructure and a significant amount of enriched uranium. However, international recognition of the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear capabilities would place Israel in a strategic dilemma. It would be difficult for Israel to justify any offensive move against these capabilities without support from America or important elements of the international community.
In practice, the American red line is an Iranian breaking out toward nuclear arms. According to Washington, the United States would know of this development ahead of time. Israel is not convinced and has expressed its reluctance to accept that risk. The result is that a compromise with Iran also means a deepening gulf and widening disagreement between Israel and the United States. From Washington’s perspective, a reasonable deal with Iran would postpone the need for the international community to take aggressive steps against Iran and would make the need for Israel to strike the facilities redundant. While Israel’s semi-official red line is fairly clear—and Iran is likely to cross it soon—the American line is blurry. U.S. policy seeks to procrastinate on the issue and, if possible, avoid making tough decisions until after the presidential elections.
Major General (retired) Yadlin is the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). He served as the IDF’s chief of defense intelligence and as deputy commander of the Israel Air Force. Yoel Guzansky is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University, and a former member of Israel’s National Security Council.
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An in-depth reading of the last several IAEA reports have led Anthony Cordesman to conclude that anyone who believes Iran is not yet pursuing a nuclear-weapons program is committing an act of willful delusion.
By Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz, Published 02:28 12.05.12
I hesitate to recommend Rethinking Our Approach to Iran’s Search for the Bomb by the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Anthony Cordesman as weekend reading, since its conclusions are just too sobering. On the other hand, the comprehensive report is rather heavy-going, and may be hard to find sufficient time to do it justice during the working-week. It is compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in strategic issues, and does a fantastic job of summing up all the most up-to-date and unclassified information available on Iran’s nuclear program, with the added bonus of Cordesman’s invaluable insight.
The veteran national-security expert has done much of the work for us by wading through hundreds of pages of the full versions of the last two International Atomic Energy Agency reports on Iran and other relevant documents, rendering them into something approximating laymen’s terms. As he notes at the beginning of study, very few of those commentating on these affairs have actually read the entire documents, probably even less have the necessary qualifications to actually understand them. Any serious readers of this blog would do very well to make the time and read Cordesman, unless you have access to classified material, as this is the most important report on Iran you will read until something really big and new comes out. I certainly hope the Western negotiators who are about to meet their Iranian counterparts for the second round of the P5+1 talks in Baghdad, ten days from now, will have read it by the time they land in Iraq. It is probably much better than anything they will get in their briefing papers.
Here is a short summary of the document. I hope I do it justice:
- Anyone who believes that Iran is not yet actively pursuing a nuclear-weapons program and merely developing the capabilities is committing an act of willful delusion. The intelligence supplied to the IAEA and verified by different “member countries,” is clear on that Iran has been working on a wide range of projects for over a decade, all of which are specifically aimed at acquiring the capabilities necessary not only to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, but to assemble a nuclear advice that can be launched by long-range missile. Talk of a fatwa against nuclear weapons is just that: talk.
- Despite sanctions and international monitoring, Iran has received highly specialized instruments and equipment, benefited from the knowledge of foreign nuclear weapons designers and made impressive advance in its own scientific centers, so as to be able to carry out most of the necessary testing for a nuclear device, without actually creating a nuclear detonation. There has also been preparation for an actual nuclear test.
- – The P5+1 talks will be useless if they continue to focus only on an Iranian commitment to curtail uranium enrichment for two main reasons. First, Iran is simultaneously advancing on multiple fronts of nuclear development and can continue even if it delays enrichment. Second, advances in centrifuge technology by Iran mean that it could well be capable of building a new network of smaller, easily dispersed enrichment installations unknown and unmonitored by the IAEA.
- – A military strike on Iran, whether by the U.S, Israel or anyone else, may take out some of the key installations but the technological advances already achieved by Iran, mean that the damage will be limited and not prevent the continuation of the nuclear program. Only a willingness by whatever country attacks Iran to carry out a series of follow-on attacks can seriously endanger the nuclear weapons project.
- – Iran will be extremely reluctant to abandon its nuclear program as it is a key element to the regime’s entire regional strategy. In order to offset Iran’s inferiority in conventional weapons when compared to other regional powers, it sees the nuclear option as its only way of fully countering that imbalance of force. Any future dealings with Iran or military strikes must take that into consideration.
- Another researcher may have reached the conclusion that Iran has already achieved so much so as to render the situation irreversible. But Cordesman does not say that the West has totally failed in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. According to him, it must entirely rethink both its diplomatic approach and its military strategy in order to do so.