Foreign Affairs

Iran nuclear talks yield no options

Tough sanctions and the possibility of military action brought Iran back to nuclear talks over the weekend.  But don’t count on Tehran being serious about alleviating fears that it intends to weaponize its nuclear program because nuclear weapons support its regional dominance goal and besides Iran’s supreme leader believes the West is “out of options.”

Six world powers – the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany – and Iran met Saturday in Istanbul, Turkey to confirm whether Iran is ready to seriously talk about its disputed nuclear program and if so to relaunch talks that broke down in January 2011 because the Iranian team refused to discuss uranium enrichment.

Apparently Iran is now ready to discuss its nuclear program according to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who chaired the talks.  Ashton labeled Saturday’s talks “constructive” and said future meetings will be guided by the “principle of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity.”  The sides set May 23 in Baghdad, Iraq to begin the process in earnest.

Ashton’s “step-by-step approach” means the international community is ready to reward Iran if it alleviates fears that it intends to weaponize its nuclear program.  That could lead to easing the four sets of United Nations sanctions imposed for refusing to stop uranium enrichment.

Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, labeled the new talks “a step forward” in spite of differences of opinion.  He insists Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and has not violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which the parties agreed is the “key basis” for future talks.

But Iran’s actions, not its words shout that it intends to weaponize its nuclear program.  That is in spite of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s religious edict – a fatwa – forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons – a point Mr. Jalili mentioned at Saturday’s talks.  

Disregard the ayatollah’s pronouncement and consider the facts.  There is consensus among Iran experts, Western intelligence agencies and recent evidence from the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that Iran has all the ingredients to build an atomic weapon. 

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security found broad agreement among experts it questioned that Iran has been putting in place the technical infrastructure that could produce the necessary nuclear explosive material quickly.  Further, it found considerable support that the regime made a strategic decision many years ago to obtain nuclear weapons.

Recent tangible evidence confirms that view.  Last fall the IAEA reported Iran created computer models of nuclear explosions, conducted experiments on triggering a fissile reaction and completed advanced research on a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be delivered by a medium-range missile.

Iran also denied the IAEA repeated requests for access to Parchin, the site where Iran reportedly tested a pulsed neutron initiator which is found at the center of a nuclear weapon. 

Further, key allies believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program.  Germany detected Iranian procurement related to furthering its nuclear weaponization capabilities. Britain and France intelligence networks judged that Iran had either continued or restarted weaponization activities or efforts to build nuclear weapons after America’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate mistakenly concluded “Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003.

Iran’s growing uranium enrichment program creates significant suspicion that it is intended for more than peaceful purposes.  It has 9,000 operational uranium enrichment centrifuges and last year the regime shifted its 20 percent uranium enrichment activities to the underground site at Fordow near the holy city of Qom, which offers protection against air strikes.  By the end of this year Iran is expected to have more than enough 20 percent enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb which could quickly be turned into weapons-grade material (90 percent) in a month or less.

This evidence points to an Iranian nuclear weapons program.  Therefore, the six world powers should go to the upcoming Baghdad talks insisting Iran take the following three actions to alleviate fears that it intends to weaponize its nuclear program or face the consequences.

First, Iran should shut down the underground enrichment operations at Fordow, which is unnecessary given other facilities.  Specifically, Iran has a giant enrichment facility at Natanz, 140 miles southeast of Tehran, which houses at least 8,000 centrifuges.  The complex includes three large underground buildings, two of which are designed to be cascade halls to hold 50,000 centrifuges.

Second, Iran should suspend enriching its uranium stockpiles from 3.5 to 20 percent, the level from which fuel can be easily converted for military purposes.  The stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent should be shipped abroad for safekeeping.   That material can then be returned in the form of completed fuel plates Iran says it needs to make medical isotopes.

Third,  Iran should immediately agree to the IAEA’s protocol to allow inspectors greater freedom and access to conduct inspections of nuclear facilities.  The IAEA must become satisfied that any such military program has been shut down.

These actions will provide evidence Iran is serious about alleviating fears and create the incentive for the world powers to begin lifting sanctions.   Tough new sanctions this year brought Tehran to the table: sanctions that punish any bank, company or government that does business with Iran’s Central Bank and the EU’s full oil embargo that takes full effect June 28.

Unfortunately, the new talks, proposed actions to alleviate fears and any “reciprocal” lifting of sanctions may already be doomed.  Ayatollah Khamenei, who calls the shots regarding Iran’s nuclear program, apparently doesn’t believe Iran needs to cooperate with the world powers. 

Last week the Kayhan, a newspaper supervised by the supreme leader and his vehicle for communicating with the masses, stated that, for the last ten years “the U.S. has systematically backed down from its positions on the Iranian nuclear program, capitulating to Iran’s position, and that today it is completely out of options.”  

Further, the ayatollah’s editorial states the U.S. “has played all its cards” and “Iran is able to enter the talks from a position of strength and does not need to compromise.”  This authoritative statement makes clear the new talks are a ruse to reduce the pain of the sanctions, delay threatened military strike, and continue its nuclear weaponization program.

Iran made a decision a long time ago to acquire nuclear weapons, it has most of the necessary infrastructure for that program, and now Iran’s supreme leader believes the West “is completely out of options” to stop the regime. The only remaining question is: How long will it take the world powers to realize they are being played for a dunce and either accept a nuclear armed Iran or take military action to stop the mullahs?

Sign Up