Commentary Magazine


Topic: International Atomic Energy Agency

U.S. Seeks Post-Deal “Parameters,” Not Pre-Deal Answers from Iran

Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

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Friday afternoon — for the third day in a row — the press sought a straight answer from the State Department on Iran’s obligation to answer the longstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (June 9, 2010) requires Iran to “cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues, particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions [PMDs] of the Iranian nuclear program,” and to provide “access without delay to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the IAEA” (emphasis added). Iran has provided virtually no answers to the IAEA, which reported recently that it “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” Here is part of the Friday exchange at the State Department:

QUESTION: In your briefing two days ago, you stated from the podium that Iran must give the IAEA the access that they need to resolve any possible military dimensions of their program. And I just want to confirm with you that it is the policy of the United States that Iran must resolve those questions, not just address them.

MR KIRBY: … [A]s part of any deal and before there can be a deal, it needs to be determined … that the IAEA will have the access that they need to resolve their concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, past and present.

QUESTION: … so they will get the access before the deal is signed?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. I said that —

QUESTION: Aha.

MR KIRBY: I said that in order for there to be a deal, they have to have provided the parameters for the access that IAEA needs (emphasis added).

QUESTION: Right. You – but you realize the problem with that? Iran has made promises, many promises in the past, and not followed through or fulfilled them. So you’re saying that they don’t have to give the access before a deal is done; they just have to say they will give access (emphasis added).

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

So while there is a UN resolution obligating Iran to provide immediately whatever the IAEA requests, the administration will settle for post-deal “parameters” for “access,” rather than pre-deal compliance — much less a completed IAEA report on Iran’s undisclosed nuclear activities. On Friday, reporters sought to clarify what “parameters” for “access” meant, and got this:

QUESTION: Just to clarify the remarks you just made in response to Matt’s question, is it the case that when we have a final deal with Iran, if we reach one, it will contain the parameters for access, as you just stated? Or it will be – it will contain, that deal, the specific terms of access?

MR KIRBY: I’m certainly not going to talk about the issues that are still under negotiation … [T]he IAEA will need to have the access it needs to resolve the issues of possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. And without the parameters for that sort of access, there’s not going to be a deal….

QUESTION: But when you say “parameters of access,” what you’re essentially telling us is that as part of a final deal, those parameters could themselves be subject to further negotiation. And it’s always been understood here that the final deal will have the actual terms of a deal, not further parameters to be worked out, correct?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the details that are being negotiated now….

The question of whether the specifics of “access” will be set forth in the Iran nuclear deal, or will only be general principles subject to further negotiation, is not exactly a “detail.” So the reporters tried a third time:

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up? I’m a little confused … because, one, Iran is a member of the IAEA, so it should already be subject to the IAEA’s overview; two, those are already enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions. So why did you need 18 months or however many months of negotiations to merely say what they are already required to do and haven’t been doing all along?

MR KIRBY: I don’t – all I can tell you is what was agreed to in Lausanne … about the IAEA getting the access – being able to get the access it needs. And again, I’m just not going to go beyond that right now. There are still issues that are being negotiated in Europe …

QUESTION: Well, given that the PMD issue was supposed to be resolved in a deal, and now that it’s – that resolution process would continue past a deal if a deal is reached – does lack of access or lack of resolution require the breaking of the deal? Or would that be a deal-breaker even after a deal is already signed?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals, Brad. I’m just not.

The latest IAEA report states that at Iran’s Parchin military site, the IAEA “has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment and probable construction materials,” and that “the activities that have taken place at this location since February 2012 are likely to have undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification.” In the years since UN Resolution 1929 was adopted, Iran has used the time well.

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Kerry Dismisses the U.S. Collapse on Iran

Power Line has posted a lengthy email from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the U.S. collapse on the demand that Iran answer the outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about past work on nuclear weapons. The email is worth reading in its entirety. To fully appreciate the collapse, we need to go back to February 19, 2015, when the New York Times published an article entitled “Inspectors Say Iran Is Evading Questions as Nuclear Talks Enter a Crucial Stage,” and then review Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress six days later. The article described an IAEA report that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions that had been pending for more than three years, and quoted a European official saying: “the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Six days later, Secretary of State Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and assured it in unambiguous terms that the questions would have to be answered if Iran wanted to have an agreement:

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Power Line has posted a lengthy email from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project regarding the U.S. collapse on the demand that Iran answer the outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about past work on nuclear weapons. The email is worth reading in its entirety. To fully appreciate the collapse, we need to go back to February 19, 2015, when the New York Times published an article entitled “Inspectors Say Iran Is Evading Questions as Nuclear Talks Enter a Crucial Stage,” and then review Secretary of State John Kerry’s testimony to Congress six days later. The article described an IAEA report that Iran was continuing to refuse to answer questions that had been pending for more than three years, and quoted a European official saying: “the question is, does it make sense to lift sanctions against Iran before it satisfies the inspectors?” Six days later, Secretary of State Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and assured it in unambiguous terms that the questions would have to be answered if Iran wanted to have an agreement:

[Committee Chairman] ROYCE: … as you’ve acknowledged, this is a critical part of these negotiations. And it’s a fundamental test of Iran’s commitment. … And I’ve talked to the secretary-general of the IAEA about this. … IAEA inspectors have amassed over 1,000 pages which showed research, development and testing activities on technologies needed to develop a nuclear weapon. And of the 12 sets of questions that the IAEA has been seeking since 2011, Iran answered part of one of those. And so I’d like to ask you for a response on the concerns on the part of the IAEA and us on the committee.

KERRY: Well, they’re legitimate. And the questions have to be answered. And they will be unless – if they want to have an agreement.

ROYCE: Well, we had 350 members write you expressing deep concern about this lack of cooperation and, of course, from our standpoint in – unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s program, we’re not going to be able to judge a year’s breakout time with certainty. That’s the conundrum we face here. And they’re withholding that information …

KERRY:as I said, [the IAEA questions] are going to have to be answered. [Emphasis added].

Yesterday, Secretary Kerry told the State Department press corps “we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.” Ceren’s email calls the Kerry comments “a collapse [of] the administration’s core promise to lawmakers on any deal,” and cites multiple representations by U.S. lead negotiator Wendy Sherman and comments by Kerry in April to PBS after the Lausanne “parameters” were announced by the State Department, a point noted last week by Jonathan Tobin.

It is a shameful collapse, the latest in a continuing series, and another “red line” down the drain.

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If Iran’s Program is Frozen, Why Is Their Nuclear Stockpile Growing?

The Obama administration is puzzled. They’re convinced that Iran is committed to a process of negotiations over its nuclear program that will forestall its efforts to build a bomb and begin a new period of détente between the Islamist regime and the West. Moreover, they’ve been preaching endlessly that the interim agreement signed in November 2013 “froze” the Iranian program in place. How then to explain the fact that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the size of their stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by more than 20 percent over the last 18 months while they were talking with the West and supposedly freezing their nuclear work in place? Washington isn’t offering any explanations, though some experts quoted in the New York Times hypothesize that the build up is the result of “technical problems” that have created a backlog of material that ought to be turned into fuel rods for reactors. Maybe it’s just that. However, another possible explanation may be more in line with everything we already know about the way Iran operates: Perhaps they’ve been just increasing their stockpile at a furious pace in order to get closer to their ultimate goal of producing a weapon.

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The Obama administration is puzzled. They’re convinced that Iran is committed to a process of negotiations over its nuclear program that will forestall its efforts to build a bomb and begin a new period of détente between the Islamist regime and the West. Moreover, they’ve been preaching endlessly that the interim agreement signed in November 2013 “froze” the Iranian program in place. How then to explain the fact that, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported, the size of their stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by more than 20 percent over the last 18 months while they were talking with the West and supposedly freezing their nuclear work in place? Washington isn’t offering any explanations, though some experts quoted in the New York Times hypothesize that the build up is the result of “technical problems” that have created a backlog of material that ought to be turned into fuel rods for reactors. Maybe it’s just that. However, another possible explanation may be more in line with everything we already know about the way Iran operates: Perhaps they’ve been just increasing their stockpile at a furious pace in order to get closer to their ultimate goal of producing a weapon.

Not all of the news from the latest IAEA report is bad for the administration. Its inspectors who had access to Iran’s known nuclear facilities (but obviously not to the ones that intelligence experts have always suspected the West may not be aware of) say the regime isn’t racing toward a bomb. Why should it? The framework deal that President Obama has embraced offers them two paths to one while still getting the West to drop the economic sanctions that have hurt its economy. It can sign an agreement and then cheat on it, especially if Obama folds on his insistence that it include intrusive inspections or the ability to quickly snap back sanctions. Or it can simply wait patiently for the deal to expire under its appalling sunset provisions and then do as they like.

But the fact that Iran’s stockpile has been increasing at a time when President Obama has been proclaiming that their program was “frozen” is more than an inconvenient detail that can be swept under the rug. Under the terms of the framework, Iran is, at least according to the United States, obligated to shrink its nuclear stockpile by approximately 96 percent from the amount reported by the IAEA in a matter of months after the agreement is signed. Iran doesn’t have the capacity to convert its fuel into rods that can’t be used for bombs that quickly and has made it clear that it has no intention of allowing the precious stockpile to be taken out of the country. This creates an apparently insoluble problem for an administration that is all-in on a negotiating process that isn’t working the way they thought it would. One “senior American official” admitted that the U.S. had no idea how this could be resolved: “We’re not certain. It’s their problem, not ours. But it’s a problem.”

Yes, it is a problem, but the senior official has it backward. The Iranians don’t see such an anomaly as a problem because they are always seeking to push the envelope with the West. It’s actually a much bigger problem for the administration since facts like these undermine the rationale for the deal and will make it harder even for Democrats to vote to ratify the deal when it comes up for a vote in Congress.

If the final negotiations on the Iran deal proceed as if we didn’t know that Iran has been expanding its nuclear stockpile, it calls into question the credibility of the entire process. With no assurances about Iran opening up its facilities on military applications of nuclear research, inspections and the re-imposition of sanctions, the obstacles to a final agreement before the June 30 deadline loom large. But, if administration negotiators treat every instance of Iranian bad faith as merely a detail to be swept under the rug, as they have throughout this process, the Iranians have no reason to live up to their word. Moreover, President Obama has shown that he will concede on every point if the Iranians stand their ground setting up a final stage of talks that point inevitably to Western “compromises” that will once again depart from the supposed goal of ensuring Tehran never gets a bomb. While Iran’s nuclear stockpile grows, the administration’s credibility on this issue shrinks with each passing week.

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Iran on Nuclear Inspections: “Depends What Meaning of Is Is”

Even though President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have promised that any Iranian nuclear deal arrived at next month will have unprecedented verification mechanisms, the crux of any verification has yet to be negotiated. Any inspections to verify Iranian compliance, however, will be the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been seeking to negotiate access and preserve what it believes necessary to confirm Iranian compliance against the backdrop of Kerry’s obsessive willingness to undercut the IAEA’s redlines. One of the major stumbling blocks remains the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. While Obama and proponents of the tentative deal reached repeatedly say that Iran has abided by the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, even if this were true, it is the equivalent of saying that a drunk passed a sobriety test by counting to one. Much of the work on PMDs has occurred in military facilities, especially those maintained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that, for what it is worth, has never endorsed or agreed to abide by any nuclear deal reached.

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Even though President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have promised that any Iranian nuclear deal arrived at next month will have unprecedented verification mechanisms, the crux of any verification has yet to be negotiated. Any inspections to verify Iranian compliance, however, will be the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has been seeking to negotiate access and preserve what it believes necessary to confirm Iranian compliance against the backdrop of Kerry’s obsessive willingness to undercut the IAEA’s redlines. One of the major stumbling blocks remains the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. While Obama and proponents of the tentative deal reached repeatedly say that Iran has abided by the terms of the Joint Plan of Action, even if this were true, it is the equivalent of saying that a drunk passed a sobriety test by counting to one. Much of the work on PMDs has occurred in military facilities, especially those maintained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that, for what it is worth, has never endorsed or agreed to abide by any nuclear deal reached.

Yukiya Amano, the secretary-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been seeking to guarantee access to nuclear work conducted in Iran’s military restricted zones and bases. Iran’s Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) yesterday reported on his efforts. Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, responded:

Mr. Amano has not set demands for Iran, but instead has offered an interpretation of the Additional Protocol that we have some reservations about… According to the Article 5 of the protocol, access to the sites that the IAEA is seeking to enter requires substantial evidence and arguments. Also, the agency should pay attention to different concerns from member countries, including security concerns.

So, let’s get this straight: Obama and Kerry have celebrated Iran’s concessions and flexibility. They have celebrated Iran’s agreement to be guided by the Additional Protocol, an enhancement to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was created in 1997 in order to fill loopholes that had allowed Saddam Hussein to develop a covert nuclear program all the while receiving clean bills of health by the IAEA. The vast majority of the world—and pretty much every state of concern (minus North Korea and Pakistan which are not NPT members)—has signed onto the Additional Protocol and accept its contents. Not so, Iran. First, they said they would only abide “voluntarily” to the Additional Protocol, which means they could walk away at any time. Now, the Iranian government is putting forward an interpretation that would effectively gut any remaining bite the inspections have by arguing that raising security concerns should be enough to avoid inspections. That reading is the nuclear equivalent of quibbling over what the meaning of “is” is in order to absolve oneself from a lie. Perhaps it’s time for Obama and Kerry simply to replace the Stars and Stripes with a white flag of surrender, because it is increasingly clear that their deal is nothing but capitulation and the verification mechanisms about which they bragged are little more than an illusion. Unprecedented verification, indeed.

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Obama’s Latest Concession Guts What’s Left of the Iran Nuclear Deal

You don’t have to be an Israeli spy to know what’s going on at the nuclear talks between Iran and the West at Lausanne, Switzerland. As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

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You don’t have to be an Israeli spy to know what’s going on at the nuclear talks between Iran and the West at Lausanne, Switzerland. As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.

As the Journal reports:

Iran’s refusal to implement the IAEA work plan threatens to undermine the prospects for this comprehensive agreement, say diplomats involved in the talks. The ability of the IAEA and global powers to verify whether Iran is abiding by any future deal to prevent it from racing to develop a nuclear weapon depends, in part, on an understanding of its past work, according to these officials.

But rather than press the Iranians to comply with IAEA demands, American negotiators came up with what they are calling a compromise that falls far short of providing complete accountability about their work to build a bomb:

Under the new plan, Tehran wouldn’t be expected to immediately clarify all the outstanding questions raised by the IAEA in a 2011 report on Iran’s alleged secretive work. A full reckoning of Iran’s past activities would be demanded in later years as part of a nuclear deal that is expected to last at least 15 years.

The delay will be sold by the administration as a clever strategy to bridge one more seemingly intractable difference between the parties enabling the president to claim a foreign-policy triumph. But this is no minor detail. While most of the attention in the nuclear talks has always been on Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium and therefore build a stockpile of nuclear fuel, the West’s lack of knowledge about Iran’s military research is key to any understanding of how close they might or might not be to building a weapon. Without a grasp of where they are in that process, all attempts at verification will be without an effective baseline.

Moreover, a delay of this sort makes any effort to get the information meaningless because by the time that the Iranians will be required, at least in theory, to open up their facilities to the IAEA, it will be years after sanctions will have been lifted. So even if they don’t comply on time, it will be difficult, if not impossible to call off the deal or re-impose sanctions on what the Europeans or perhaps a Hillary Clinton administration (if the Democrats hold onto the White House next year) will consider a technicality.

IAEA head Yukio Amano has made it clear that he has made “no progress” in his efforts to find out more about the Iranian program. But that has not stopped American negotiators from plowing ahead as if this was irrelevant to their quest. According to the Journal, the French, who have showed a bit more backbone in the process than the Americans, have also raised questions and put more demands on the Iranians. In response, President Obama has let the French play a larger role in the discussion about the weaponization issue. But his purpose there appears to be to be to ensure that Paris will buy into the final deal–no matter how weak it turns out to be–not to allow their concerns to become a roadblock to an agreement.

The president’s goal here is détente with Iran, not stopping them from getting a nuclear weapon. It involves a tacit alliance with the Islamist regime in Iraq and Syria as well as a U.S. determination to retreat from the region and to allow Iran a free hand to defend its interests, a strategy that both moderate Arab nations and the Israelis believe is really acquiescence to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony.

What’s happened with the issue of military research is merely a repetition of the same pattern of Iranian stonewalling followed by American concessions that has marked the entire process. Since the U.S. opened up a secret negotiating track with Iran in 2013, President Obama has gradually retreated from a position demanding an end to Iran’s nuclear program to one in which it will be allowed to keep several thousand centrifuges while also refusing to tell the truth about their work toward a bomb and safe in the knowledge that a sunset clause will eventually enable them to build one after the deal expires. With days left to go before the deadline for the talks to end, anyone who expects the administration to walk away from a deal over any detail, no matter how crucial it might be, has not been paying attention.

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Iran Talks Continue U.S. Nuclear Retreat

The latest round of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and its Western partners and Iran ended today in Geneva without agreement. But it’s clear that the Obama administration is hoping that its latest concessions will entice Iran to finally sign a document in the coming weeks that could somehow be interpreted as a foreign-policy victory for a president badly in need of one. To support this notion of an impending deal, a “senior administration official” briefed the press on the outlines of the latest proposal delivered to the Iranians. But while it seems like something Tehran ought to pounce on if it really wants to “get right with the world,” in the president’s words, the details tell us more about the administration’s desperation than about progress toward an accord that would conclusively end the Iranian nuclear threat. After several previous Western retreats that had gradually ensured that Iran could keep its nuclear infrastructure, the latest concession in the form of a phased program will eventually grant the Islamist regime the freedom to do anything it wants.

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The latest round of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and its Western partners and Iran ended today in Geneva without agreement. But it’s clear that the Obama administration is hoping that its latest concessions will entice Iran to finally sign a document in the coming weeks that could somehow be interpreted as a foreign-policy victory for a president badly in need of one. To support this notion of an impending deal, a “senior administration official” briefed the press on the outlines of the latest proposal delivered to the Iranians. But while it seems like something Tehran ought to pounce on if it really wants to “get right with the world,” in the president’s words, the details tell us more about the administration’s desperation than about progress toward an accord that would conclusively end the Iranian nuclear threat. After several previous Western retreats that had gradually ensured that Iran could keep its nuclear infrastructure, the latest concession in the form of a phased program will eventually grant the Islamist regime the freedom to do anything it wants.

The proposed terms leaked by the U.S. represent a shocking demarche from the president’s 2012 promise that any deal would mean Iran would have to give up its nuclear program. As the Associated Press reports:

The United States and Iran are working on a two-phase deal that clamps down on Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade before providing it leeway over the remainder of the agreement to slowly ramp up activities that could be used to make weapons. …

The U.S. initially sought restrictions lasting for up to 20 years; Iran had pushed for less than a decade. The prospective deal appears to be somewhere in the middle. One variation being discussed would place at least 10-year regime of strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. If Iran complies, the restrictions would be gradually lifted over the last five years of such an agreement.

Iran could be allowed to operate significantly more centrifuges than the U.S. administration first demanded, though at lower capacity than they currently run. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise, with the U.S. trying to restrict them to Iran’s mainstay IR-1 model instead of more advanced machines.

While in theory this could mean that Iran would be prevented from building a bomb during the next decade, it more or less puts in place a Western acquiescence to future plans for a bomb.

But there are two clear problems with this idea.

One is that like past concessions giving Iran the right to enrich uranium, albeit at low levels and then the one authorizing the regime to hold onto thousands of centrifuges and the option to keep its nuclear stockpile in a non-active state, this latest retreat isn’t the last one Iran will expect the West to make on its way to an agreement. The dynamic of the negotiations that President Obama has authorized is clear. Whenever Iran says no to a Western demand, the U.S. simply says OK and gives in. At this stage, and with no sign that the Americans will ever walk away from talks that have already been extended three times, the Iranians clearly think they can keep negotiating indefinitely until the U.S. eventually agrees to a deal that would give Iran everything it wants, seriously endangering the security of the West but also that of Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The second problem is that, as last week’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency stated, Iran is still stonewalling the UN body’s efforts to discover the facts about their progress toward weaponization of their nuclear research. The West simply has no idea how close the Iranians have gotten to a bomb. They also have no idea how much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is unknown to them. While Israeli and Western intelligence have openly speculated about the likelihood that much of the country’s nuclear work is being conducted at secret facilities, without a rigorous inspection regime that would give the IAEA access there is not a ghost of a chance that any regulation scheme could possibly work to restrain Iran, no matter how many carrots President Obama is offering his Islamist negotiating partners.

Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that the Israeli government is upset. While the administration is intent on using the nuclear talks as a wedge by which it can create a new détente with Iran that will ensure cooperation on a host of issues such as the fight against ISIS, in practice what it is doing is acquiescing to Tehran’s push for regional hegemony. Even in the unlikely event that Iran observes the proposed agreement, giving it this much capacity will make it a threshold nuclear power and a clear threat to the future of Israel (which it again threatened with destruction last week) as well as moderate Arab regimes.

Though the president’s apologists will, as they have with past concessions, defend this proposal as the best deal that can be made, Washington’s zeal for a deal is again the undoing of Western resolve. Kicking the can down the road for ten years may make sense to a president that has less than two more years in office. But the security of the West and its allies must be viewed with a longer perspective.

Yet what has to be most frustrating for observers who care about stopping the Iranian nuclear threat is the willingness of the administration to publicize concessions in such a way as to make them the starting point for future talks. With this ten-year pledge in their pocket, you can bet the next round of negotiations will begin with Iranian demands to lower the amount of time they will have to operate under restrictions. At this rate by 2016, Obama will have given away any shred of a deterrent to Iranian cheating or its future nuclear ambitions.

Though the administration thinks this leak will bolster its position, members of Congress who take this issue seriously should regard it as an even greater incentive for them to pass more sanctions on Iran that will attempt to restrain the desire of this president to accept any deal, even a disastrous one, rather than ever admit that his outreach to a tyrannical, anti-Semitic, terror-sponsoring Iranian regime has failed.

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The Shelved Iran Report and Diplomacy

With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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With the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference starting this weekend in Washington, the debate about the Iranian nuclear threat is back in the headlines. But, as the AIPAC activists know all too well, in their efforts to mobilize Congress to support increased sanctions on Iran the administration has effectively checkmated them on the issue by claiming the measure would derail diplomacy. Opponents of sanctions have falsely sought to frame the issue as being a choice between war and diplomacy even though the new sanctions, which would not go into effect until after the current negotiations with Iran are seen to have failed, would clearly strengthen the administration’s hand in the talks. But the problem with treating the diplomatic process as sacrosanct is that in doing so, the truth about the nature of the threat may be sacrificed without the West getting any closer to its goal of thwarting Iran’s nuclear program.

That dilemma was illustrated this week when it was revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency had shelved a new report about Iran’s nuclear project because it was felt its publication would harm the diplomatic process. Sources told Reuters that the report would have been a wider review of the Iranian program including crucial analysis of Tehran’s military research. But the IAEA, whose reports over the last few years have raised awareness of the nuclear threat, ultimately decided that putting out more information about the topic now would, like the sanctions being debated in Washington, harm diplomacy.

After the Reuters report was published, Israel called on the IAEA to release the report. In response, the agency claimed today that it doesn’t exist. But all that tells us is that the decision to spike the report took place before it was formally prepared. The bottom line remains the same. Whatever new information the IAEA has obtained about military dimensions of Iran’s program is not going to be published because the more the Western public knows about the subject the less likely they are to give diplomats the leeway they need to craft a nuclear deal that will fall short of their stated goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We don’t know what a new IAEA report on Iran would have said. Given that the interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. in November did not provide for inspections of Iranian facilities where military research is being conducted, it may be that the agency has not learned of any breakthroughs or further evidence of Iran’s clear intent to build a bomb. But past IAEA reports have served an important purpose in clarifying the danger involved in letting Tehran continue to use diplomacy to run out the clock until they reach their nuclear goal. But whether the IAEA acted on its own or if it succumbed to pressure, the effect is the same. The Obama administration and its P5+1 partners understand that the more information is released about the ongoing Iranian efforts to circumvent the diplomatic process, the harder it is to silence criticism of their tactics or to prevent Congress from seeking to put more sanctions in place.

There is no disagreement between the administration and its critics about whether a diplomatic solution is the best way to resolve this issue. No one wants the U.S. to be forced into a position where its only choice really is between the use of force and accepting a situation in which Iran becomes a nuclear power. But the suppression of the free flow of information about the nature of that threat raises suspicions that what is going on now is more about preserving diplomacy for its own sake than anything else.

By agreeing to negotiations that tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and loosened existing sanctions, the administration has allowed Tehran to believe that it will never have to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. Having triumphed in the interim talks, it is little surprise that Iran’s leaders believe they will achieve their nuclear goal either through diplomacy or by stalling the process until the point where their bomb is a fait accompli. It is to be hoped that the administration means what it says about preventing an Iranian bomb. But the more President Obama seeks to suppress the truth about the Iranian threat and to silence debate about sanctions, the harder it is to believe that he will keep his promises. The goal must be to make it impossible for the Islamist regime to build a bomb, not detente. A diplomatic process that aims for anything less than that is not worth the effort or the sacrifices of the truth required for keeping it alive.

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IAEA Evidence Shows Israel, Not Obama, Talking Sense About Iran

The latest report being prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran appears to be a sobering retort to those who have spent the summer trying to claim that Israel’s warnings about the need to act should be ignored. The report, which has not yet been released but whose contents have been leaked, says that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is devoting its efforts to refining uranium to a level of greater than 20 percent, a sign that it is working on a nuclear bomb and not, as it disingenuously contends, on medical research. Of equal concern is that all of this new equipment has been installed in facilities near the holy city of Qum and buried so far under underground that they may be invulnerable to attack.

This evidence would mean the alarms being sounded in Israel in recent months were entirely justified. If the Iranians have dramatically increased their stockpile of refined uranium and are now transferring more of their work into hardened bunkers, they may be close to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have called a “zone of immunity”: the point at which their program can no longer be halted by force. But rather than taking this as a sign that their complacent attitude toward Iran needs to be revised, the Obama administration remains in denial. Despite the obvious failure of the P5+1 talks and Iran’s determination to run out the clock on its nuclear program before the West acts, a White House spokesman said Friday there is still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, the administration seemed more intent on trying to undermine Israel’s stance on the nuclear peril than it was on actually doing anything about the problem.

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The latest report being prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran appears to be a sobering retort to those who have spent the summer trying to claim that Israel’s warnings about the need to act should be ignored. The report, which has not yet been released but whose contents have been leaked, says that Iran has installed hundreds of new centrifuges in recent months and is devoting its efforts to refining uranium to a level of greater than 20 percent, a sign that it is working on a nuclear bomb and not, as it disingenuously contends, on medical research. Of equal concern is that all of this new equipment has been installed in facilities near the holy city of Qum and buried so far under underground that they may be invulnerable to attack.

This evidence would mean the alarms being sounded in Israel in recent months were entirely justified. If the Iranians have dramatically increased their stockpile of refined uranium and are now transferring more of their work into hardened bunkers, they may be close to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have called a “zone of immunity”: the point at which their program can no longer be halted by force. But rather than taking this as a sign that their complacent attitude toward Iran needs to be revised, the Obama administration remains in denial. Despite the obvious failure of the P5+1 talks and Iran’s determination to run out the clock on its nuclear program before the West acts, a White House spokesman said Friday there is still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, the administration seemed more intent on trying to undermine Israel’s stance on the nuclear peril than it was on actually doing anything about the problem.

President Obama has pledged to stop Iran from going nuclear, but his priority throughout the last year has been to stop Israel from acting on its own to deal with the problem. No serious observer has any confidence that the sanctions on Iran that were belatedly adopted (and loosely enforced) by Washington will force the ayatollahs to back off on their nuclear plans. The P5+1 talks led by the European Union’s Catherine Ashton got nowhere despite several tries. Any revival of these negotiations would only serve Iran’s purposes as they string Western diplomats along while their centrifuges keep spinning.

But despite the evidence of Iran’s progress, the administration is doing its best to downplay the crisis. An “administration official” speaking without attribution to the New York Times  — the White House’s favorite outlet for leaks — confirmed the latest intelligence gleaned from the IAEA report but pooh-poohed it as “not a game changer.” The argument from the source was that a “breakout” that could convert the existing Iranian stockpile to weapons grade could be rapidly accomplished. But the source said the U.S. would find out about it and still have time to deal with it. The upshot of this statement was that the world should ignore Israel’s fears and trust President Obama to deal with the problem in his own good time.

Yet how can the president be trusted on the issue if his whole focus seems to be on kicking the can down road until after the presidential election in November? It is one thing to accuse the Israelis of alarmism or of trying to exert pressure on Obama to pledge to act. But if the Iranians are able to compile enough refined uranium and store it in places that can’t be attacked, a U.S. policy rooted in a predisposition to delay action is a formula that is certain to fail.

Time is running out not only on the countdown to the day when Iran will be able to quickly assemble a bomb but until the point where it will no longer be possible to use force to prevent them from doing so. Four years of Obama policies toward Iran have shown the administration to be willing to do nothing but talk about the need to avert this danger. The latest information from the IAEA is more proof that despite the media campaign orchestrated from the White House intended to undermine Israel’s appeals, it is Jerusalem, and not Washington, that is talking sense about Iran.

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Is Iran Destroying Nuclear Evidence?

Those wondering why Iran finally broke down and signed a deal allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country got their answer today. Both the IAEA and an American think tank released pictures from satellite images that show that buildings at the military facility at Parchin were recently razed. Because Parchin has been the focus of concern that the Iranians have been developing devices to test military applications of nuclear technology, including triggers for bombs, any effort to sanitize the site prior to the arrival of IAEA inspectors may make the watchdog agency’s efforts to police the program pointless.

The possible destruction of evidence at Parchin is just one more indication that Iran’s negotiating strategy with the West is a ruse intended to create delays that will enable the regime to get closer to its nuclear goal. With the P5+1 talks scheduled to resume next month, this development ought to place even more pressure on President Obama and his European allies not to give in to Iranian demands for acquiescence to continuance of their nuclear project or the lifting of sanctions.

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Those wondering why Iran finally broke down and signed a deal allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country got their answer today. Both the IAEA and an American think tank released pictures from satellite images that show that buildings at the military facility at Parchin were recently razed. Because Parchin has been the focus of concern that the Iranians have been developing devices to test military applications of nuclear technology, including triggers for bombs, any effort to sanitize the site prior to the arrival of IAEA inspectors may make the watchdog agency’s efforts to police the program pointless.

The possible destruction of evidence at Parchin is just one more indication that Iran’s negotiating strategy with the West is a ruse intended to create delays that will enable the regime to get closer to its nuclear goal. With the P5+1 talks scheduled to resume next month, this development ought to place even more pressure on President Obama and his European allies not to give in to Iranian demands for acquiescence to continuance of their nuclear project or the lifting of sanctions.

Though the Iranians have tried to convince Western negotiators that their supreme religious authority had issued a fatwa against a nuclear bomb, Parchin was the place that seemed to give the lie to this assertion. Inspectors have never been allowed to enter the Parchin site, and it was hoped the new agreement with the IAEA would allow the agency to get to the bottom of suspicions it was being used specifically for work that could only be applicable for bombs. Though the Iranians may think they can fool EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton into thinking they are only interested in peaceful applications of nuclear technology, a cleanup at Parchin prior to the arrival of inspectors can only confirm that their aim is deception, not transparency. That is especially true because prior to the emergence of this evidence, it was clear there was intense activity going on at Parchin that could only be an indication that the notion of a peaceful Iranian nuclear program was a myth intended to disarm the West.

Though the United States and the EU refused to back off sanctions at last week’s P5+1 meeting in Baghdad, there is little doubt that both the president and the Europeans would prefer not to implement the existing sanctions or to expand them into an oil boycott of Tehran. The Iranians are counting on that reluctance to help them succeed at the next round of talks. The indications that they are embarked on a cover-up of their military research — the fruits of which can easily have been moved to some secret or underground facility — ought to put the West on its guard. It also ought to make it inconceivable that there be any abandonment of sanctions prior to the elimination of Iran’s nuclear facilities and the destruction of their stockpile of refined uranium.

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Media Hypes Manufactured Iran Optimism

Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

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Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

And then as if to prove Abdo’s point about pretenses, the New York Times headlined its article yesterday as “Iran Talks Are Extended as Signs of Common Ground Are Seen.” But even the Times, which has been doing yeoman’s work helping the Obama administration minimize Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, had to open with the observation that there was no actual evidence of common ground. Luckily, the paper managed to track down an anonymous administration source to assert it exists. Very convenient, and good enough for a headline:

Iran appeared to balk Wednesday at a detailed proposal presented by six world powers to address urgent concerns about its nuclear program, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranian side suggested was an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange.

But after a long day of diplomatic negotiations, both sides agreed to keep talking into Thursday. A senior American official said that despite disagreements some common ground had been reached, suggesting that diplomats had extended the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed since the talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program were resumed last month.

“We’re getting to things that matter,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “Even if we disagree on the shape, we think there is the beginning of a negotiation.”

That’s really what passes for a “constructive atmosphere” these days, isn’t it? Iran’s lead negotiator preemptively closing the door on compromise, Iran’s military holding war games aimed at P5+1 members, and the West pretending that none of that is true. “Despite little progress,” by the by, the next round of negotiations have been set for mid-June. It’s almost difficult to understand why the Israelis have no confidence in the talks.

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Evidence of Iran Nuclear Arms Test Device Raises Stakes in Talks

The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

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The initiation by the West of a new round of talks with Iran about its nuclear program has had the effect of depressing interest in revelations about how much progress the Islamist regime has made toward its goal of a weapon. In recent months, skepticism about the Iranians has reigned but, as Ha’aretz reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency appears to be in possession of evidence that the widespread belief that the ayatollahs haven’t yet made a decision to weaponize their nuclear research is unfounded. Information obtained by the nuclear watchdogs seems to prove Iran is already testing equipment that demonstrates it is working on a military application of nuclear power.

According to the AP:

A drawing based on information from inside an Iranian military site shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that UN inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted there. Iran denies such testing and has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of such a chamber.

The computer-generated drawing was provided to The Associated Press by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.

That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant.

This latest piece of the Iranian nuclear puzzle to be revealed ought to put more pressure on the countries invested in the P5+1 talks not to allow Tehran to spend the next few months stalling as the centrifuges continue to spin. With the next round of talks set for later this month in Baghdad, the image of the testing device ought to serve as a reminder to President Obama and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that there will be a terrible price to be paid for allowing diplomacy to serve as a convenient method for the ayatollahs to run out the clock on efforts to prevent an Iranian nuke.

Though we can we expect that those who have rationalized every Iranian attempt to obfuscate the issue will dismiss this latest revelation, the evidence ought to be enough to scare those who have been throwing cold water on the immediacy of the Iranian threat. The existence of the testing chamber is consistent with previous information released by the IAEA:

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in March that his agency has “credible information that indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices” at the site. Diplomats subsequently told the AP that the experiments also appear to have involved a small prototype neutron device used to spark a nuclear explosion – equipment that would be tested only if a country was trying to develop atomic weapons.

The report goes on to state that it appears the chamber may have been built with Russian assistance. Iran’s apologists and critics of Israeli efforts to raise the alarm could argue that just because the Iranians have the device, it doesn’t mean they’ve used it. But it appears that’s not likely either:

The IAEA has voiced alarm at unexplained “activity” at the site — a term diplomats familiar with the agency’s concerns say stands for attempts to clean up any evidence of the kinds of experiments the agency suspects were carried out.

A second senior diplomat familiar with the investigation recently told the AP that spy satellite images shared with the agency show what seems to be water streaming from the building housing the chamber. He said it also depicts workers removing bags of material from that building and put on vehicles outside.

This information should raise the stakes for the West at the Baghdad talks. Though there are increasing reports that Ashton and the EU would happily settle for a compromise with Iran that would leave their program in place, the existence of a military testing device ought to mean the West’s goal must be the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, not just the removal of what the Iranians say is their supply of refined uranium. Because there is now even more credible evidence of weapons research, President Obama is obligated not to let Ashton allow the talks to drift for months while testing continues in Iran.

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CIA: Iran Expands Program But No Nukes?

The evidence of a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is a matter of record as far as the CIA is concerned, but the spy agency is still claiming Tehran hasn’t decided to build a bomb. Yesterday, COMMENTARY contributor Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon about the CIA’s official report to Congress on arms proliferation which was delivered in February but which hasn’t come to the attention of the public until now. The report states the bare facts about Iran’s program that are by now a matter of public knowledge since the International Atomic Energy Agency has been putting out regular bulletins about their damning findings.

The acknowledged facts are these: the Iranians have expanded their nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear enrichment. They have constructed advanced nuclear centrifuges and bringing them online. Even more ominously, a new underground nuclear facility at Fordow has begun production of “near-20 percent enriched uranium,” the material that can be used to produce bombs. But as Gertz noted, the CIA’s report did not note the questions raised by the IAEA about weaponization research that is believed to be going on in Iran.

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The evidence of a major expansion of Iran’s nuclear program is a matter of record as far as the CIA is concerned, but the spy agency is still claiming Tehran hasn’t decided to build a bomb. Yesterday, COMMENTARY contributor Bill Gertz wrote in the Washington Free Beacon about the CIA’s official report to Congress on arms proliferation which was delivered in February but which hasn’t come to the attention of the public until now. The report states the bare facts about Iran’s program that are by now a matter of public knowledge since the International Atomic Energy Agency has been putting out regular bulletins about their damning findings.

The acknowledged facts are these: the Iranians have expanded their nuclear infrastructure and continued nuclear enrichment. They have constructed advanced nuclear centrifuges and bringing them online. Even more ominously, a new underground nuclear facility at Fordow has begun production of “near-20 percent enriched uranium,” the material that can be used to produce bombs. But as Gertz noted, the CIA’s report did not note the questions raised by the IAEA about weaponization research that is believed to be going on in Iran.

That omission is a crucial point in evaluating the CIA’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The agency has grudgingly noted the way Iran has proceeded with its nuclear build-up. But it is still sticking to its largely discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that claims the Iranians are not building a bomb. In order to maintain that stance, it must ignore or downplay any evidence that points to weaponization.

As even the New York Times noted last month, American intelligence is still recovering from the black eye it received from its mistakes about Iraq’s weapons stockpile. But the agency’s decision to try to avoid making the same mistake on Iran has led them to buy into an equally fallacious mindset. Moreover, criticisms that the Iraq intelligence was influenced by the politics of the Bush administration is more than matched by the pressure coming from the Obama White House to downplay worries over Iran’s nukes that lend weight to calls for more action and less talk about the threat.

While American intelligence may have been guilty of overselling the threat from Iraq, it now appears to be doing everything possible to avoid taking the blame for a confrontation with Iran. But what the spooks seem to be forgetting is that as bad as the spanking over its Iraq errors was, it will be nothing compared to the anger that will come down on them should their optimistic assessments about Iran be proven false. Moreover, as bare bones as the CIA’s latest report may be, it contains enough to be someday thrown in their faces as proof that they knew the nature of the Iranian threat but refused for political or institutional reasons to draw the right conclusions.

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South Africa’s Double Game on Iran

South Africa’s emergence from apartheid was among the greatest moral victories of the 20th century. How sad it is, therefore, to see how the South Africans have squandered it. In recent years, the South African government has cozied up to such regimes as Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Far from being a moral authority, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu has subscribed to numerous anti-Semitic tropes.

South Africa has long maintained cordial if not friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Iranians have long sought to cultivate African countries with votes on the IAEA Board of Governors or the Security Council. A recent lawsuit by Turkcell against a South African phone company has shed new light on the depth of the relationship, however. According to Bloomberg:

Turkcell, which initially was awarded the Iranian mobile- phone license, sued its Johannesburg-based rival yesterday in federal court in Washington for $4.2 billion in damages. The suit includes numerous alleged internal MTN memos that detail the company’s efforts to win the Iranian business after losing the bid to Turkcell in February 2004… MTN prevailed upon the South African government to abstain from three votes on Iran’s nuclear energy program at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in 2005 and 2006, according to the complaint. The Iranian communications ministry allegedly told MTN it was withholding its license until it saw how South Africa voted at an upcoming IAEA meeting.  South Africa’s representative to the IAEA, Abdul Minty, abstained from an IAEA vote on Iran on Nov. 24, 2005. The license was delivered three days later, the complaint states.

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South Africa’s emergence from apartheid was among the greatest moral victories of the 20th century. How sad it is, therefore, to see how the South Africans have squandered it. In recent years, the South African government has cozied up to such regimes as Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. Far from being a moral authority, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu has subscribed to numerous anti-Semitic tropes.

South Africa has long maintained cordial if not friendly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Iranians have long sought to cultivate African countries with votes on the IAEA Board of Governors or the Security Council. A recent lawsuit by Turkcell against a South African phone company has shed new light on the depth of the relationship, however. According to Bloomberg:

Turkcell, which initially was awarded the Iranian mobile- phone license, sued its Johannesburg-based rival yesterday in federal court in Washington for $4.2 billion in damages. The suit includes numerous alleged internal MTN memos that detail the company’s efforts to win the Iranian business after losing the bid to Turkcell in February 2004… MTN prevailed upon the South African government to abstain from three votes on Iran’s nuclear energy program at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in 2005 and 2006, according to the complaint. The Iranian communications ministry allegedly told MTN it was withholding its license until it saw how South Africa voted at an upcoming IAEA meeting.  South Africa’s representative to the IAEA, Abdul Minty, abstained from an IAEA vote on Iran on Nov. 24, 2005. The license was delivered three days later, the complaint states.

The story continues to describe how the South African government greased the deal with helicopters, artillery, communications equipment, and radar technology.

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North Koreans Fool Obama Again

On Feb. 29, the Obama administration agreed to give North Korea 240,000 tons of food aid in return for a return for a North Korean moratorium on long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Then last week North Korea announced that it was planning a satellite launch which of course involves using a long-range rocket in contravention of the “leap day” deal. This week North Korea says it will welcome International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back after a hiatus of three years, thus seemingly  upholding another aspect of the deal.

What’s going on? Why is Pyongyang making deals, then taking actions that immediately repudiate them, while promising to adhere to other parts of the accord? No one really knows whether this is sheer duplicity on the part of the North Korean leadership or a rivalry among different branches of the government, some of which might want to strike a deal and others that don’t. Given that North Korea has a young and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, anything is possible. But whatever the case there is absolutely no reason to trust the North Koreans who, under the dictatorship of Kim Jung Il, father of the current supreme leader, showed a genius for manipulating the West into reaching deals and then violating all of their commitments.

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On Feb. 29, the Obama administration agreed to give North Korea 240,000 tons of food aid in return for a return for a North Korean moratorium on long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. Then last week North Korea announced that it was planning a satellite launch which of course involves using a long-range rocket in contravention of the “leap day” deal. This week North Korea says it will welcome International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back after a hiatus of three years, thus seemingly  upholding another aspect of the deal.

What’s going on? Why is Pyongyang making deals, then taking actions that immediately repudiate them, while promising to adhere to other parts of the accord? No one really knows whether this is sheer duplicity on the part of the North Korean leadership or a rivalry among different branches of the government, some of which might want to strike a deal and others that don’t. Given that North Korea has a young and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, anything is possible. But whatever the case there is absolutely no reason to trust the North Koreans who, under the dictatorship of Kim Jung Il, father of the current supreme leader, showed a genius for manipulating the West into reaching deals and then violating all of their commitments.

The Clinton and Bush administrations were both suckered into thinking they could make a deal with Pyongyang only to be cruelly disabused of that illusion. Now it’s Obama’s turn. The only real issue left is whether the 240,000 tons of food aid will be delivered in spite of North Korea’s failure to live up to its guarantees. It might be, because the food aid was presented as a humanitarian gesture not a quid pro quo. But that’s clearly what it was and if the U.S. is to have any credibility it must now announce that no food will be forthcoming. It’s a shame that North Korea’s long-suffering population must pay the price for its leaders’ duplicity and aggression but we have precious few other ways to hold this brutal regime to account.

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No Proof of Iran Nukes? Satellite Images Continue to Erase Doubts

As the world debates what it, if anything, the West and Israel will do about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, there has been a constant undercurrent of skepticism in which it is claimed that suspicions about Tehran’s intentions are completely unfounded. The blowback from the intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war has given an undeserved credence to these attempts to stifle discussion of the issue. But though the political left continues to trumpet the belief that Iran is the victim of a conspiracy to rush to war, evidence continues to pile up that points to only one conclusion: the Iranians are working overtime to put a genocidal weapon in the hands of their fanatic Islamist leaders.

The latest addition to the dossier against Iran was presented in yesterday’s Guardian which published an article in which unnamed western diplomats leaked findings by International Atomic Energy Agency experts who said satellite images of an Iranian facility in Parchin reveal evidence of testing of an experimental neutron device used to trigger a nuclear explosion. If true, this gives the lie to the notion that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is medical research, as the regime claims. The only possible use for such a technology would be in the production of a weapon.

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As the world debates what it, if anything, the West and Israel will do about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, there has been a constant undercurrent of skepticism in which it is claimed that suspicions about Tehran’s intentions are completely unfounded. The blowback from the intelligence failures prior to the Iraq war has given an undeserved credence to these attempts to stifle discussion of the issue. But though the political left continues to trumpet the belief that Iran is the victim of a conspiracy to rush to war, evidence continues to pile up that points to only one conclusion: the Iranians are working overtime to put a genocidal weapon in the hands of their fanatic Islamist leaders.

The latest addition to the dossier against Iran was presented in yesterday’s Guardian which published an article in which unnamed western diplomats leaked findings by International Atomic Energy Agency experts who said satellite images of an Iranian facility in Parchin reveal evidence of testing of an experimental neutron device used to trigger a nuclear explosion. If true, this gives the lie to the notion that the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program is medical research, as the regime claims. The only possible use for such a technology would be in the production of a weapon.

According to the Guardian, satellite images revealed evidence of crews attempting to clean up the aftermath of tests that required the removal of huge amounts of contaminated soil that led experts to believe a neutron-initiator had been tried out there. This is not the first time the IAEA has uncovered worrisome signs from Parchin. Last fall, the agency said experiments with conventional high explosives that were meant to initiate a nuclear chain reaction had been conducted at the place. The Iranians have refused to allow international inspectors to visit Parchin, but it is expected that this ban will be lifted once the clean up effort there is completed.

The Iranians have been trying to cover their tracks on their nuclear program for years, but given the technology available to investigators, there is a limit to the amount of information Tehran can conceal from the world.

But no amount of high tech spy work can offset the sense of complacency about Iran that has infected much of the U.S. intelligence and defense establishment, many of whose members continue to feed the disinformation about the threat being disseminated by those who oppose efforts to stop Iran. As the dossier against Iran gets thicker, the validity of the excuses for delay and inaction are growing less credible. It may well be that President Obama has managed to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to put off a decision on striking Iran for the next few months. But while the world waits in vain for diplomacy to resolve this problem, there is little doubt the Iranians are working steadily toward realizing their nuclear ambitions.

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Some Unfashionable Thoughts About Egypt

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem. Read More

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem.

Leadership abhors a vacuum, and in the past 24 hours, we’ve seen that vacuum filled by Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize–winning former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who’s taken to the streets insisting that Mubarak pack up before he’s ridden through Cairo on a rail. He’s recently allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist militant organization closely allied with Hamas and up till now the leading opposition party to Mubarak. ElBaradei has repeatedly referred to Israel as the “number one threat to the Middle East” and has supported Hamas violence against Israel, saying that “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.” As head of the IAEA, he’s been accused of doing more than anyone else to facilitate Iran’s nuclear efforts. And as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, in the grand battle between American and Iranian influence in the region, a coalition of ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood looks grim indeed.

It’s impossible to predict the future, not just what will happen a year from now, when Egypt could well go through a second revolution (as did Iran, indeed as did Russia way back when), but even whether Mubarak’s regime is in fact over. For now, the army is holding tight. Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman as the country’s first-ever vice president, and heir-apparent, was tailored to maintain support of the military for the regime. Nobody should be counting Mubarak out just yet.

Both the strength and weakness of political ideals is that they push heavily toward optimism. They allow us to see possibilities when everything looks grim. But they can also lead us to delusions about what can happen in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The fact is that Egypt doesn’t have much of a democratic tradition. Less so even than Lebanon, postwar Iraq, or the Palestinian Authority. If I had to make a guess about what will happen if Mubarak falls, I think it’s foolish to assume that a real democratic regime will emerge there, as opposed to a new dictatorship that is far less amenable to American interests. And if he doesn’t fall, the U.S. will have egg on its face for not backing him. That, too, will strengthen Iran.

None of the options looks terribly pleasing to Western eyes. But then again, Egypt isn’t a Western country, is it?

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Australian Blindsides Israel on Nukes

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

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Iranian Nuclear Threat: Plan A Might Not Be Working

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

The hope harbored for talks with Iran continues to baffle me. This weekend, on the eve of the new round of talks in Geneva, Iran once again made a provocative announcement about its nuclear accomplishments, reporting that its uranium-processing facility had taken delivery of the nation’s first locally produced yellowcake. The West has been aware of the Iranians’ indigenous uranium-mining effort for at least two years (I wrote about it here in March); U.S. officials could not have been surprised by the declaration. But all its implications point to one melancholy truth: the current process of negotiation and inspection is worse than irrelevant. It is counterproductive — because it gives Iran time.

The use Iran has made of that time promises to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection regime pointless. Western analysts have known since 2008 that Iran was trying to produce its own yellowcake — and that once it could, accountability on the Iranian stockpile of uranium might quickly be lost. The IAEA doesn’t inspect uranium ore at the mining or milling sites. The agency’s first look at stocks of uranium occurs at Esfahan, where yellowcake is turned into uranium hexafluoride. To inspect the milling process or the raw ore as it is mined, the UN would have to get Iran to honor the “Additional Protocol” to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something the Islamic Republic has repeatedly declined to do.

With the vast tunneling projects at both Esfahan and Natanz, to which inspectors have not been admitted since 2005, Iran has the underground space to potentially process uranium outside IAEA supervision. If Iran can mill its own yellowcake, it doesn’t even have to divert portions of the known uranium stockpile to a separate, unsupervised processing cycle: it can circumvent the IAEA inspection regime entirely.

The news media have focused on the fact that Iran’s indigenous uranium is scarce and less pure than is cost-effective for commercial use. These factors mean that indigenous uranium won’t support a network of nuclear power plants. Therefore, pressing forward with local yellowcake production is probably a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. But frankly, we knew that already. The real “news” here is that Iran is on the threshold of circumventing IAEA inspection accountability altogether — and that the Iranians thought it was in their interest to announce that rather than keeping it a secret.

The move looks like Iran is pulling a “North Korea”: hoping to increase the stakes and buy a fresh round of time-wasters from the West. It is foolish at this point to keep giving this adversary the one thing it wants most: time. There’s no time like the present to recognize a reality we should have confronted years ago. Giving ourselves time gives Iran time, too, and every extra month imposes a cost on us. Today that cost includes Iran’s posting all its biggest weapons-program triumphs after UN sanctions were first imposed in 2006. Ultimately, the cost is likely to be much higher.

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A Little Perspective on Stuxnet

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finally acknowledged that Iran’s been having centrifuge problems induced by an IT attack, as Alana Goodman noted. The apparent culprit, the Stuxnet worm, is undoubtedly elegant: brilliantly conceived and executed with patience and subtlety. But for all its deserved notoriety as an IT phenomenon, excitement over Stuxnet is distracting us from the fact that its effects have not changed the cost-benefit calculus of interdicting Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. We’re missing the big picture here.

The attempted assassination of two Iranian scientists this week highlights that reality in jarring fashion. If these attempts — much like another one in January — were mounted by a foreign government, the purpose was to eliminate two of the scientists most prominent in the weaponization effort. Of the three elements of a nuclear-weapons program — weaponizing a warhead, enriching uranium, and acquiring delivery platforms (e.g., missiles) — it is weaponization that has become, in Iran’s case, the crucial bottleneck on which to focus efforts at sabotage. Weaponization is the program element Iran hasn’t mastered yet. The payoff from targeting weaponization is that we might still avert the development of an operational bomb.

Stuxnet, apparently targeted at the industrial uranium-enrichment process, didn’t offer that payoff. Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for three to four warheads, with over 3,100 kg stockpiled as of October 2010. Some portion of that LEU was produced, in fact, during the period of vulnerability to Stuxnet. As long as the worm went undetected, it could interfere with rote uranium-enrichment operations. But its achievements must be viewed in context: the International Atomic Energy Agency’s data indicate that the rate of LEU production at Natanz showed an increasing overall trend during the period when Stuxnet could have been in operation (scroll down at the last link above to see the graphs). In the same period, the Iranians also inaugurated — and enjoy continued success with — their higher-purity enrichment process.

If the rate and efficiency of uranium enrichment didn’t increase as rapidly as they would have without sabotage from Stuxnet, that’s a good thing. But it remains to be seen if Iran’s rate of uranium enrichment can be held back now that the worm is a known quantity. Slowing the stockpiling rate is, moreover, a secondary objective. As North Korea has demonstrated, the political impact of obtaining nuclear weapons occurs at the threshold, with the first detonation. Warhead weaponization is what needs to be prevented — and Stuxnet’s characteristics are irrelevant to that leg of the effort.

Sanctions may impose some additional delays on Iranian progress. But the longer we wait, the higher will be the price of interdicting any particular aspect of the Iranian nuclear-weapons program. Iran has enough LEU for three to four bombs, it is already enriching uranium to higher purity, and it has already tested missiles that can carry a usable nuclear warhead to Israel and other parts of the Middle East. Stuxnet hasn’t changed any of that.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finally acknowledged that Iran’s been having centrifuge problems induced by an IT attack, as Alana Goodman noted. The apparent culprit, the Stuxnet worm, is undoubtedly elegant: brilliantly conceived and executed with patience and subtlety. But for all its deserved notoriety as an IT phenomenon, excitement over Stuxnet is distracting us from the fact that its effects have not changed the cost-benefit calculus of interdicting Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. We’re missing the big picture here.

The attempted assassination of two Iranian scientists this week highlights that reality in jarring fashion. If these attempts — much like another one in January — were mounted by a foreign government, the purpose was to eliminate two of the scientists most prominent in the weaponization effort. Of the three elements of a nuclear-weapons program — weaponizing a warhead, enriching uranium, and acquiring delivery platforms (e.g., missiles) — it is weaponization that has become, in Iran’s case, the crucial bottleneck on which to focus efforts at sabotage. Weaponization is the program element Iran hasn’t mastered yet. The payoff from targeting weaponization is that we might still avert the development of an operational bomb.

Stuxnet, apparently targeted at the industrial uranium-enrichment process, didn’t offer that payoff. Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for three to four warheads, with over 3,100 kg stockpiled as of October 2010. Some portion of that LEU was produced, in fact, during the period of vulnerability to Stuxnet. As long as the worm went undetected, it could interfere with rote uranium-enrichment operations. But its achievements must be viewed in context: the International Atomic Energy Agency’s data indicate that the rate of LEU production at Natanz showed an increasing overall trend during the period when Stuxnet could have been in operation (scroll down at the last link above to see the graphs). In the same period, the Iranians also inaugurated — and enjoy continued success with — their higher-purity enrichment process.

If the rate and efficiency of uranium enrichment didn’t increase as rapidly as they would have without sabotage from Stuxnet, that’s a good thing. But it remains to be seen if Iran’s rate of uranium enrichment can be held back now that the worm is a known quantity. Slowing the stockpiling rate is, moreover, a secondary objective. As North Korea has demonstrated, the political impact of obtaining nuclear weapons occurs at the threshold, with the first detonation. Warhead weaponization is what needs to be prevented — and Stuxnet’s characteristics are irrelevant to that leg of the effort.

Sanctions may impose some additional delays on Iranian progress. But the longer we wait, the higher will be the price of interdicting any particular aspect of the Iranian nuclear-weapons program. Iran has enough LEU for three to four bombs, it is already enriching uranium to higher purity, and it has already tested missiles that can carry a usable nuclear warhead to Israel and other parts of the Middle East. Stuxnet hasn’t changed any of that.

Read Less

The Latest Excuse to Do Nothing About Iran’s Nuclear Plans

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

Read Less




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