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No Indigenous Enrichment

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”



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