Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why won't Iran just suspend enrichment? Iran's and the US plans for Iran's nuclear program

Iran believes that the generation of Iranian leaders that is in power 30 years from now will, because of the sacrifices, work and planning of todays leaders, find themselves with a nuclear stature comparable to Japan's.

Iran likely will not have actually produced a weapon, but will be able to. If other Muslim countries want assistance in also achieving that stature, Iran will be willing and able to offer it and for all intents and purposes, if Israel is still a Jewish-majority state, and the Palestinians are still dispossessed, then it will not have a monopoly of either nuclear power or the ability if necessary to produce a nuclear weapon in its region.

This is not a vision of hopeful thinking. Iran is headed in this direction today and an Israeli or US attack on Iran's nuclear program today likely will have no impact at all on the question of will Iran have Japan's nuclear stature in 30 years.

For Iran to trade this position for trade incentives, even if those trade incentives were real, would be the height of foolishness, because in any scenario those incentives will be a memory in the medium-term, but if Iran commits to give the US a veto over its nuclear program, that veto will be permanent.

But there is every reason to believe there are no serious incentives on offer just by the structure of the US negotiating position. The US position is that once Iran stops enriching, the US will tell Iran specifically what it can offer for making the stop permanent. If there were incentives that the US believes the Iranians would accept, it could just name those incentives publicly, and allow the Iranians to pressure their leaders to accept it. A structure of "first you commit, then we can tell you our offer" only makes sense for an offer that the US knows is unacceptable.

Iran has also taken an interesting position that if the US increases sanctions, Iran will not only accelerate its enrichment, but it will consider its increased capacity non-negotiable, as if it has already "paid" for this capacity with the sanctions already imposed and will not give it away.

The US could have frozen the Iranian program at a few dozen centrifuges for a prolonged period of time in 2006. Now it will have to accept 7000 centrifuges, likely the number will increase if another round of sanctions is imposed. But even if the US had accepted a very small number of centrifuges, Iran intended and still intends to be fully nuclear capable in the medium term, in 20 or 30 years. Iran would not have accepted that the US could impose limits on its long-term program in 2006 and will not accept that now.

From the Iranian perspective, there will be no US veto, in any form, over Iran's nuclear program. That will make the situation difficult for Israel. So what. Israel will have to deal with it.

The US is really not able to come to terms with exactly how little leverage it has over Iran.

David Albright's plan is to impose on Iran a siege loose enough not to escalate to war, but tight enough to force Iran to give up a policy that has a very strong national consensus.

Long before Iran begins considering suspending its enrichment program, it will suspend its cooperation with the US in Iraq and Afganistan. US military losses will begin increasing and from there either the US will retreat or go to war.

The fact of the matter is that Iran can claim, and will for a long time continue to be able to claim that the IAEA is able to verify that there is no imminent danger of Iran building a weapon. If the US goes to war, there is no hiding that instead of going to war to prevent a weapon, it is going to war to prevent Iran from having Japan or Brazil's ability to create a weapon in theory.

The US will not be able to hide that it is going to war to prevent Iranian enrichment, and it will not be able to hide the fact that Argentina can tolerate nuclear-capable neighbors but Israel cannot. More than Iraq, which actually invaded Kuwait, it will be difficult to hide that the US soldiers who die and the US resources that are being wasted in that case would be openly being wasted for Israel. And while mid-2007 levels of US deaths were enough to cause popular revulsion against that war, Iran will be able to get much higher US death rates for a war that will be harder to initially sell to the American people.

The Albright plan, impose whatever sanctions the US can and wait, will see Iran reorient its economy away from any countries that ally with the US in this program, but continue to grow and find itself a generation from now still nuclear capable, and still with a manageable economy. Many countries do not have oil and are able to produce good standards of living. Iran's oil helps buttress it against US economic hostility, but the sanctions may have the benefit of preventing Iran from getting the resource-producer's curse - which is that commodity exporters have a very difficult time industrializing under any circumstances.

Bolton's plan is to bomb Iran and hope that in a few years the US is able to successfully get a pro-US regime in place. I'm not sure if he just hasn't thought this through, if he's very unintelligent or if he's making a statement he knows is false because it serves some other purpose.

He's never even given a bad rationale explaining how bombing could lead to a pro-US administration in Iran, given that he acknowledges that the US is not able to invade and occupy the country. He's said it's possible Iran will give up enrichment after a regime change because after a regime change South Africa disavowed nuclear weapons. South Africa though has never disavowed having Japan or Brazil's nuclear stature. He cannot explain what would make regime change happen and he cannot explain why after regime change Iran would change its nuclear policy.

Bolton is advocating bombing Iran with no reason at all to believe it would further any US interest, even significantly slowing Iran's reaching a stature of nuclear capability. Bolton would guarantee a large number of dead US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In theory he should care about that, but I don't understand what motivates his position.

The best the US can hope for is a face-saving way to accept Iranian domestic enrichment. Possibly with Iran voluntarily agreeing on a slower pace for the growth of its program in exchange for some relief of the unilateral sanctions the US had in place before the nuclear controversy.

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