Iran took another step toward convincing the West it is showing flexibility about its nuclear program this week by inviting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Tehran. IAEA chief Yukio Amano has been a thorn in the side of the Iranians as his agency has reported clear evidence of their work on military applications of nuclear power and their refusal to allow inspectors access to vital sites. But by signing an agreement with Amano to belatedly allow IAEA personnel entry into their facilities, the Islamist regime is creating the impression that it has turned over a new leaf of cooperation that will make it easier for the West to allow it to keep its nuclear program. Though the talks with the IAEA are separate from the P5+1 negotiations that will soon resume in Baghdad, by seeming to give in to the international community on inspection issues, Iran is hoping to strengthen those in the West who are inclined to ease up on them.
But this move, like other alleged concessions on Iran’s part, must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Like the idea of removing their stockpile of refined uranium to another country, the new inspections cannot conclusively allay our fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Deceptions are possible on both scores, especially as long as Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is left intact. Given the limited and belated nature of these alleged compromises, it is impossible to disregard or discount the very real possibility that the West is once again being played for suckers by Iran.
Getting the nuclear inspectors back into Iran is certainly a good thing and would never have happened without the tough sanctions that have been put in place and the threat of an oil embargo hanging over the ayatollahs. Yet no one should regard the mere presence of IAEA personnel on the ground as a panacea. Inspectors have been in Iran before and proved helpless to stop the growth of the program as nuclear facilities went on line, the centrifuges started spinning to create weapons grade uranium and work on military applications of the technology began. Even after the inspectors return, there is no guarantee the Iranians cannot shift their stockpiles or equipments to places not designated as searchable in their IAEA agreement.
Even more to the point, like the proposed agreements on the uranium and future refining that it appears EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is willing to allow, Iran’s primary goal is to drag out the diplomatic process. The long, drawn out negotiations not only serve to give the Iranians more time to get closer to their goal of a weapon. They also provide an opportunity to set in place deceptions that will allow them to claim they are complying with the West’s demands while actually flouting them. Given their history of mendacity when it comes to dealing with the West on this issue, the burden of proof should be on those who believe what the Iranians are saying now, not those who believe they are not to be trusted.
It should be remembered that both Iran and some members of the international coalition that President Obama has helped to assemble to stop their nuclear program have some common goals. The West and the Iranians are both desperate to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran that could set off a regional conflict. Even more to the point, both sides in the talks don’t want to see an oil embargo on Iran. An embargo could cripple the Iranian economy, but it would also cause a spike in oil prices that would upset the Europeans as well as harm President Obama’s chances of re-election. An agreement to end the crisis, even if it were one the Iranians could easily bypass in the coming years, would serve the president’s purposes as well as those of his European allies.
The administration’s optimism about the possibility of a deal with Iran can, if not checked by realism about the regime’s intentions, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The president needs to be reminded that the objective is not so much the achievement of an agreement but the removal of the Iranian nuclear threat. So far there is not much indication that the Western optimists are intent on achieving that goal.