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Negotiating with Ourselves

Obama’s diplomatic march to an Iranian bomb

Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
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Let us parse Rhodes’s statement. First, the White House believes diplomacy will end if the Joint Plan of Action is abandoned or altered. This is odd since the administration also says that the interim deal is just the beginning of a process, which could take up to one year, to dismantle (the White House really means diminish) the Islamic Republic’s nuclear-weapons capability. Even if the administration only intends to retard the program, the supreme leader will have to make vastly greater concessions in the next 12 months than he did in the opening round. A recent report from the Institute for Science and International Security, headed by the former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright, estimates that in order to ensure that the program serves only civilian purposes, Tehran would have to disable approximately 15,000 centrifuges from its uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, close down the Fordow facility, where the most advanced centrifuges are being installed, and convert the heavy-water reactor at Arak to a light-water facility incapable of producing plutonium for a bomb. The ISIS projection would still leave Tehran with an enrichment capacity—it would still have 4,000 spinning first-generation centrifuges. Yet these steps would severely impede the regime from using the known facilities in a rapid or surreptitious way. 

Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi, has flatly stated this will not happen. “As far as we are concerned, the heavy-water reactor at Arak is clear: It must remain as a heavy-water reactor. Iran’s nuclear program has not been set back at all—its expansion has only been stopped for a little while. Under [the interim] agreement, the system of Iran’s nuclear program is absolutely preserved, but in the sanctions system, there are cracks.” 

Ali Akbar Salehi, the current head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and former foreign minister, echoes Araghchi: “We are not halting any nuclear activity, but only voluntarily reducing enrichment for six months, so that there can be comprehensive negotiations to determine what will happen with enrichment above 5 percent. If they see any concession [on our part], it is voluntary. The activity at Arak, the enrichment to 5 percent, all the activity to discover [uranium ore deposits], the research, and the development will continue. No activity will be halted.” 

As Salehi, a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from M.I.T., must know well, neutralizing Iran’s nuclear weapons quest would also require Tehran to make available its paperwork and engineers involved with centrifuge-manufacturing and the importation of centrifuge parts and open Iran to unchallenged spot inspections by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Khamenei’s foreign-affairs adviser, former foreign minister Ali Velayati, has stated flatly that the Islamic Republic will not allow inspections of undeclared sites. And Salehi would be among the first to be rigorously questioned since he has quite likely had a major hand in overseeing the evasion of sanctions against nuclear-related technology since the 1980s. The regime’s centrifuge research, untouched by the interim deal, will give it the capacity to construct ever-more advanced centrifuges in larger numbers, provided Tehran has no supply problems. And why should it have supply problems? So far, U.N., U.S., and EU sanctions against nuclear-related machinery have not seriously impeded the regime’s impressive growth in centrifuge production since 2006 (134 spinning centrifuges then; around 9,000 spinning with an additional 10,000 installed today). Industrial-scale manufacturing of advanced centrifuges would make buried and heavily protected facilities like Natanz and Fordow unnecessary since defense against bombardment would become less critical. 

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