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September 26, 2006
The Secret Suspenders

Iran has agreed in principle to suspend its uranium-enrichment program while negotiating with the West over the future of their nuclear program, but there's a new catch. According to the Washington Times, Iran has insisted that the suspension be kept secret:

Iran is close to an agreement that would include a suspension of uranium enrichment but wants the deal to include a provision that the temporary halt be kept secret, according to Bush administration officials. ...

Many U.S. officials are opposing the agreement as a further concession to Iran, which continues to defy a United Nations' call for a complete halt to uranium enrichment. A Security Council resolution had given Iran until Aug. 31 to stop its enrichment program or face the imposition of international sanctions. Tehran ignored the deadline, but diplomacy has continued.

Some in the State Department are supporting the deal, which they view as a step toward achieving a complete halt to uranium enrichment.

However, other officials said that keeping any suspension secret would be difficult and that it would drag the United States into further negotiations with Iran.

Is this the Animal House suspension? Did Dean Wormer advise Ali Larijani to put their uranium-enrichment program on double secret suspension? If a uranium-enrichment program freezes in a forest and no one is around to see it, does it make a noise later when strapped to a Shahab-3 missile?

Bill Gertz reports that the Iranians want to save a little face if they have to back down from their loudly-stated "no freeze" position, especially at home. It makes sense to give them a face-saving way out -- if that includes verification. Without verification, the secrecy turns into nothing more than a convenient way to claim that further enrichment didn't violate any agreements.

Assuming we can verify the suspension of enrichment for negotiations, whether we accept this condition depends in large part what we hope to gain from the talks. Do we want to simply have Iran give up its ambitions for nuclear weapons? If so, then we should allow them out of their political corner at home to give them the freedom to make a deal to verifiably end their pursuit of the bomb. If we want to hold Iran up as an example to future proliferators, then this becomes much more difficult, as we will have set a precedent (in public, at least) for continued enrichment activities as a bargaining chip and pressure point for negotiations.

If we believe that Iran will continue to pursue the bomb regardless of the outcome of negotiations, then we should pass on the Dean Wormer approach. They entered into the non-proliferation treaty in public; they deceived the IAEA and violated the NPT; they have made repeated public statements about their desire to wipe Israel off the map. A request for secrecy at this point seems out of order, to say the least.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 26, 2006 6:31 AM

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