Sunday, October 04, 2009

Anti-climax: OK Iran, you can enrich uranium

I was taken aback by how suddenly the US has accepted that it will not be able to prevent Iran from enriching uranium.

It is interesting to look back on what signals were being sent and how they played out.

The first signal was John Kerry, speaking obviously with the knowledge and approval of the Obama administration, but deniably and in a way that could not be interpreted as a commitment.

After the election Hillary Clinton chimed in, stating supposedly committed US policy that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium domestically under its own control.

The Kerry line was forgotten and the Clinton line repeated continuously right until the post-meeting press conference where Kerry's line was put into an official offer that Iran accepts in principle.

This deal sets the terms for the negotiating period. The problem with a suspension as a pre-condition for negotiation is that if Iran accepted it 'temporarily', the US would be comfortable with negotiations never ending which would be a de-facto permanent US ban on Iranian enrichment.

Instead, during the negotiation period, sanctions will not increase while Iran's uranium production, at least in terms of productive centrifuge count, will not increase.

Possibly there has been an agreed principle that Iran's stock of LEU will remain under 2 tons for the entire negotiation. Possibly this was offered as a one-time gesture. We'll see, but possibly not until 2011.

Of course Iran will not now dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is nuclear weapons capable, the extent is now under negotiation and Iran has a modest Japan option starting now.

Iran is now set short term and only has to be sure it does not restrain its long term options. While Iran has a modest capability today, it cannot give the US a veto over its long term growth. Iran's next generation, if it chooses will have a much more robust Japan option.

So what was Clinton's job? If it was misdirection, she fooled me. I thought the US was committing to sanctions if Iran did not suspend.

If all of the sanction talk over the summer had been war talk, I would have realized immediately that it was bluster. Sanctions all along had been maybe less dramatically so but implausible for all the same reasons. I figured, wrongly, that the US isn't stupid enough to bomb but somehow stupid enough to increase sanctions. Wrong on me. I'll be more alert for theatrics on the part of the US going forward.

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