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Iran and the Problem of Off-Site Research

The current U.S. approach to the P5+1 nuclear negotiation seems so bizarre as to be lifted from the Twilight Zone: The deal as it is taking shape fails to address the key concerns which sparked the crisis. Both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry treat Iranian redlines as sacrosanct, but readily dispense with those of the United States or its allies. Obama effectively acts like a battered spouse: he insists the abuser truly loves him, and he lashes out at any friend who speaks honestly about how self-destructive his attitudes are.

As a result, John Kerry’s triumph not only fails to constrain Iranian enrichment or to answer questions about possible military dimensions and past military nuclear research, but also doesn’t address basic fallacies of logic such as why Iran says its motivation is an indigenous energy supply when its gas and oil resources provide far greater security at a fraction of the price, as well as why an above-board program would seek to construct covert, undeclared nuclear sites in the first place.

When it comes to potential weaponization work, there is one other major problem Kerry leaves unaddressed: the problem of off-site research. The Iranians have always been out-of-the-box thinkers. Putting aside that even inside Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not have the right by its own bylaws to inspect any covert site—it will only access declared nuclear facilities and sites—nothing in the agreement prevents Iran from setting up collaborative laboratories in countries like North Korea. North Korean and Iranian engineers already are present at each other’s ballistic-missile tests. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian has already called North Korea a model for the Islamic Republic to emulate.

And while North Korea is the most secure and likely venue for Iranian scientists to establish satellite laboratories, theHermit Kingdom is not alone as a possible venue for offsite Iranian nuclear work. Russian President Vladimir Putin has quietly encouraged Iran’s nuclear work from the get-go, and may see provision of laboratory space as a way to keep tabs on Iranian work he recognizes is going to continue anyway. Saudi Arabia is trying to flip Sudan, but may not be successful; Khartoum provides another possibility, even if less secure. And should Bashar al-Assad reassert control—as Obama and Kerry now seem to hope—then Syria too might provide some facilities.

Alas, the adage where there’s a will, there’s a way increasingly applies not only to the ability to achieve a preliminary agreement, but also to Iran’s ability to bypass inspections to achieve the weaponry so many Iranian figures have claimed they seek.



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2 Responses to “Iran and the Problem of Off-Site Research”

  1. STEPHEN PARKER says:

    Commentary’s writer have been wringing their hands over Obama since 2007; but in 2007 they had the tools to wring Obama’s nomination neck and declined to use them; they declined again in 2011 to use them. Why?

  2. L EDELSTEIN says:

    And, rarely declared publicly and sufficiently: Fifteen countries have nuclear programs for domestic needs with NO ability to enrich uranium.




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