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June 8, 2006
Iranian Enrichment Suspension Not Necessarily Permanent?

The Guardian reports that Western negotiators have told Iran that the uranium enrichment suspension prerequisite to discussions over the package offered by the US only applies during negotiations. Any permanent end to enrichment will come as part of the overall negotiations, according to a report in today's Guardian:

In a major western concession, Iran is to be allowed to retain some uranium enrichment activities if it reaches agreement with the US, Russia, Europe, and China on its nuclear programme. Diplomats said yesterday that the terms of a new package of proposed rewards delivered to Tehran on Tuesday by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, state that Iran must freeze uranium enrichment activities before and during the talks.

Once "confidence is restored in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme", it would be allowed to resume enrichment on a scale to be determined. "Those are rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," said a diplomat.

Mr Solana said in Germany yesterday: "They will have to stop [uranium enrichment] now, we will have to negotiate with no process of enrichment in place ... after the finalisation of the negotiations, we will see what happens."

Uranium enrichment is the nub of the three-year dispute, as the process delivers the know-how and, ultimately, the fissile material for a bomb. Iran said in April that it had successfully enriched uranium at its underground complex at Natanz, developed clandestinely over 18 years until it was disclosed in 2002.

This may be a tough sell for George Bush back home. Uranium enrichment by the Iranians would have to be subject to the highest level of scruitiny to ensure that enrichment did not exceed the 4-5% necessary for reactor fuel. We would have to determine not only the level of trust that we could place in the Iranians for an inspection regime, but also the will of the international community to police the Iranian nuclear cycle for the next several years.

On the first point, we have already determined that the Iranians have lied repeatedly about their program. Their track record tells us that they probably will not cooperate fully with inspectors, nor will they willingly reveal all of their facilities. Iranians have already dug underground laboratories to avoid the prying eyes and the whistling bombs that the West would use to keep the Iranians in line, and any agreement would have to get a clear identification of those facilities first.

The second point seems worse than the first. Until George Bush made his bold and risky offer, the West and the UN couldn't even agree on any consequences for Iranian defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. This reaction is depressingly similar to that of the UNSC regarding the twelve-year Iraqi quagmire that dragged out the cease-fire compliance over seventeen separate demands for Saddam to meet his obligations. He booted the inspectors out of Iraq for four years with only a single air raid over Baghdad as a consequence. While US leadership has changed, it will also change again in 2009, and we cannot ensure that our tough stand on compliance will survive. We can almost bet that the same ennui that affected our partners on the UNSC between 1991-2003 will continue and worsen.

As the Guardian points out, however, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does allow signatories the right to the nuclear cycle, as long as it is for peaceful purposes. We have little standing to deny that to Iran as long as they remain within the NPT and abide by its regulations. Either we have to press for a long-term invasive inspections regime, buy the Iranians off in exchange for forgoing the enrichment, or we have to ensure that Iranian leadership changes to more reasonable and rational people. The best solution would be to pursue all three simultaneously.

ADDENDUM: The Iranians were warned by the French that a failure to accept the proposal would bring swift UN sanctions. Interesting...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 8, 2006 6:26 AM

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