Friday, April 13, 2007

Nuclear Iran: If You Can't Beat Them – Infiltrate

By Liam Bailey

The Iranian nuclear standoff is akin to a snowball rolling down a hillside, ballooning with every tumble in rhetoric. What seems clear is this: Iran will not halt nuclear enrichment as a perceived national right to nuclear power, no matter how much the U.S. ramps up the rhetoric and threats - or the UN its sanctions.

Not even negotiations will stop Iran on its pathway into the nuclear club. All the West can do is try minimizing the risk of nuclear weapons development.

But how? I’ll return to this point in a moment

Only a few weeks ago, after the first U.N. sanctions were leveled, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took great pleasure in announcing that Iran's enrichment had proceeded to "an industrial scale." The E.U., Australia, France and Russia, have cast doubt on the claim, But the likelihood of increased U.N. sanctions and the probable American response are merely increasing Iranian determination.

Faced with the likelihood of American military action, Iran has only hinted that it may suspend its enrichment program to allow negotiations to be conducted in good faith.

To this day, nobody knows whether Iran speaks the truth when saying the nuclear program is for civilian power purposes only. However, given hard-liner Ahmadinejad's world view - specifically his rhetoric of wiping Israel off the map, their regional tussle for hegemony, and Israel's sizeable nuclear arsenal - I’m forced to admit that if Iran's enrichment does reach an "industrial level", an Iranian nuclear bomb may be less than a year away.

This changes nothing. Iran's enrichment cannot be halted with the current Western approach, whether a weapons program exists or not. According to many analysts, even air strikes would only delay the process, and in doing so guarantee Iran's resurgent nuclear program focuses on developing weapons.

An invasion may succeed. At their recent meeting the UN put the military option on the table, but given conditions in Iraq, it’s unlikely that anybody would willingly send their forces there. Probably the U.S. would have to go it alone again. But the U.S. military is already overstretched, and given Hezbollah's skinning of Israel's nose in their summer war in Lebanon, the U.S. faces the humiliation of an Iranian defeat in addition to fierce domestic opposition.

So, what should be done? The first thing is removing the precondition for talks. As Iran's Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, told the ISNA news agency: "We have a superior position. We have passed the stage of setting conditions for talks. We believe that other parties should move forward based on new realities.

The reality: Iran is already enriching uranium, creeping towards industrial level, and Russia is assisting by building them a nuclear reactor, although their assistance currently appears to hang in the balance. Why would Iran stop enriching uranium to enter talks on their stopping enrichment?

President Bush can butt heads with Ahmadinejad till he's blue in the face, and coax the UN to do the same, but only until he admits that Iran is holding all the cards.  His only option is threatening or using military force. The latter is an option that nobody (bar American Neocons and Israel) wants to see.

Even if the precondition is removed and leads to negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, it is still highly unlikely that enrichment will halt. Although the release of the 15 British sailors and marines shows that Iran can be successfully negotiated, a civilian nuclear power program is their national right as a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

And - the pomp and ceremony of Iran's latest announcement indicates that Ahmadinejad is instilling a sense of national pride into advances into the nuclear club. No amount of nuclear power generated by a Russian nuclear reactor, or uranium enriched outside Iran, will replace that pride.

Put simply. Neither threats, negotiations nor air strikes have any real chance of stopping enrichment, and an invasion would be disastrous for the Middle East - a region with more than enough conflict already.

I believe that negotiations should focus on ensuring a high level of Western assistance to Iran, reaching industrial level enrichment, and from there building a civilian nuclear power program. This could involve a large number of the UK and International Atomic Energy Agency's top nuclear scientists, and an equal number of "understudies". If the U.S. was excluded from the negotiations, as it was with the successful hostage diplomacy, then Iran's trust could be secured. With that, Iran is more likely to exhibit its program to observers.

With Iran already enriching uranium and advancing somewhat alarmingly, and with the low likelihood of stopping its program short of an invasion, cooperation leading to infiltration by Western interests may be the answer.

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