Reuters, May 22 - Optimism that this week’s talks in Baghdad about Iran’s nuclear weapons program could produce a deal should be tempered with extreme skepticism and caution in light of the Islamic Republic’s long record of lies and deception.
The international media is awash with speculation that some kind of agreement is in the offing between the six nations that make up the so-called P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) and the Iranians.
Such a deal, we read, would require Iran to stop enriching uranium above 5 percent and ship its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium (currently estimated at more than 100 kilograms) out of the country. Enrichment at the reinforced underground facility in Fordo, near Qom, would have to stop.
This is a key demand. It is clear from the size of the site that it has a military purpose: It can hold only 3,000 centrifuges – far fewer than the number needed for industrial-scale fuel production, but ideal for quick production of 90-percent-weapons-grade-enriched uranium.
In return, the international community would agree not to impose further economic sanctions, though current measures would remain in place. Additionally, the six powers would agree to help the Iranians fuel a small reactor for medical purposes and send them fuel rods for a civilian research reactor.
No one knows if the Iranian leadership will agree to such a package. But their past record leaves little room for confidence, and many analysts believe the Iranians are engaged in this process in an effort to buy yet more time so that they can continue enriching uranium and move even closer to a nuclear weapon.
Although not part of the P5+1, no country has more at stake in these talks than Israel, which remains the most likely target of a nuclear-armed Iran. Just this past weekend, the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, told a defense gathering in Tehran that the Iranian nation remained committed to the “full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end.”
It is worth remembering that the requirement that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment is not an Israeli demand. In fact, it has been enshrined in a series of resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council starting with Resolution 1696 passed in July 2006. This and subsequent resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, making them legally binding on Iran.
Tehran continues to maintain that its program is purely civilian and peaceful – but such protestations can have no credibility in light of the Iranian record. Much of what we know about their nuclear program was disclosed by dissident groups or by Western intelligence after the Iranians tried their best to conceal the information from the world.
For example, the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz was revealed in 2002 by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a dissident group. In September 2009, Western governments disclosed the existence of a second underground enrichment facility near Qom.
Now we have the controversy surrounding the high-explosives weapons-testing site at Parchin. The International Atomic Energy Agency has asked repeatedly to visit the site, which it suspects is used for high-explosives tests related to nuclear weapons development – but its requests have been refused. At the same time, satellite imagery suggests that the Iranians may be trying to clean up the site, removing signs of suspicious nuclear-related activity.
It is unclear what Iran’s motivations are in agreeing to this latest set of talks. Possibly, the sanctions are biting so hard that the Iranian leadership is finally looking for a way out of the crisis. But if the past teaches us anything, it is that Iran’s leaders are deeply committed to the goal of developing nuclear arms and have been steadfastly working toward that goal for decades.
It is incumbent on the P5+1 to approach these talks with deep suspicion. Any deal they accept has to have real teeth and real verification procedures. Such a deal should in no way walk back from resolutions adopted by the Security Council. And international sanctions should remain tightly in place until it is clear beyond all shadow of a doubt that Iran is complying.