This week in Tehran, it's déjà vu all over again:
Iran has formally informed the UN nuclear agency that it will start on February 9 to further enrich uranium stockpiles to a level of 20 percent, further fueling Western concerns that Tehran is secretly seeking a nuclear bomb-making capacity.
"We wrote a letter to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that we shall start making 20-percent enriched fuel," the head of the Iranian Atomic Organization, Ali-Akbar Salehi, told Iran's Arabic-language state television channel, Al-Alam late on February 7. "We will hand over this official letter to the IAEA on [February 8] and shall start enrichment on [February 9] in the presence of IAEA monitors."
The move essentially circumvents a UN compromise deal aimed at easing Western concerns Iran could use its uranium for a nuclear weapon.
A couple of potential outcomes here. Iran could be playing its usual bait-and-switch diplomatic game, where they talk up their willingness to negotiate right before pulling the plug on a meaningful international compromise (same script the North Koreans used before detonating their own plutonium implosion weapons). Tehran was reaching another decision point with the UN, so -- per their usual routine -- the timing for their predictable egress from the negotiating table was just right.
Second possibility: The Iranians could be prepping the world for the long awaited activation of their Bushehr nuclear power plant, which was expected to come online last year.
Final possibility: It's almost impossible for international observers to differentiate between uranium enrichment for medical purposes and uranium enrichment for weapons purposes. Though the IAEA reports that Iran has already been spinning centrifuges for some time, this could signal Tehran's intention to boost their uranium enrichment to an industrial level. The bogus "20 percent medical purposes" line is simply convenient top cover -- unless IAEA observers were standing in the room, there's no real way to ascertain if Iranian nuke techs are spinning to 20 percent or the 90 percent necessary for a bomb core.
Sanctions clearly won't work. Iran is a master of working the black market, plus sanctions are slow, costly to friendly Western powers, and will ultimately benefit two nations who are helping the Iranians along: Russia and China.
President Obama must go for the jugular and get serious about fanning the flames of Iranian revolution. He can start by treating revolutionaries like Reagan treated the Polish Solidarity movement, recognizing an Iranian government in exile, and initiating an underground logistical line of techno gadgets like laptops and cell phones with encrypted uplinks, radio-broadcasting equipment, GPS transmitters, even iPods to assist in messaging -- anything that will ensure that a democratic revolution, not atomic devices, is the only thing that reaches critical mass.