Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ahmadinejad reported to accept TRR deal - US reported to threaten blacklist of Iran's central bank

So we are seeing a lot of reports that Ahmadinejad apparently told Iranian television that he supports exporting Iran's LEU for medical reactor fuel. Here is one authored by Jay Salomon, Chip Cummins and Farnaz Fassihi in the Wall Street Journal.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his government would accept a nuclear fuel-swap agreement overseen by the United Nations, a deal the Obama administration has viewed as central to limiting Tehran's ability to develop atomic weapons.
The discussions about the transfer of uranium for fuel for Iran's medical reactor have been occurring in the background, likely since at least June. The deal presented to the public is insultingly bad from Iran's point of view, it would leave the US in a position to demand Iran suspend enrichment before it receives the fuel it paid for, and given what the US says publicly, that is exactly what the US would do.

The medical reactor is mostly a pretext, what is important is the amount of LEU that Iran has domestically at a given time. Iran will not agree to export its LEU just for a promise of medical reactor fuel, however, Iran has seemed to indicate that it is willing to export the fuel in a gesture that it is confident would be reciprocated by a deal in which Iran is allowed domestic enrichment without US opposition.

Has a deal been struck? It is impossible to say. It is just as likely that Ahmadinejad's statement is less committal than it is being portrayed. If there is no deal, Iran may not make reactor fuel, but it will build a stock of 20% enriched LEU that is significantly easier to weaponize than the 3.5% LEU in its stock now.

Further in the article we get another threat that the US will apply crippling sanctions on Iran.
Officials who have viewed the new U.S. sanctions list on Iran said it could be potentially crippling for Iran's economy. The U.S. Treasury Department has toyed for years with the idea of seeking to black-list Iran's central bank as a means to virtually freeze out Iran from the international financial system.
These threats are all stage-play. The United States treasury department could declare that it will not transact with parties that transact with Iran's central bank any time it wants. The United States can also stop gasoline imports to Iran right now. The United States is not a country that worries about legalities or authorization from the UN. Economic acts of war against Iran would put US troops in danger. That is what deters the US today, not Russian or Chinese hesitance.

More information will become available. I don't worry about Iranian decision-making. Iran's decision makers are a lot more clever than I am. If Iran exports its LEU, it has been convinced that a deal will be struck that ends US opposition to domestic enrichment. A deal that for some reason the US can or not renege on. We'll see details of that deal in public a few months later.


Lysander said...

Its painful to speculate when we have minimal information, but I guess I can't help it.

Here are some possibilities.

1) US arms sales to Taiwan have successfully pressured China into agreeing to some kind of sanctions deal. Not very likely in my view, but I guess it's possible

2) Iran has received assurances from Russia/China that the US will not renege on its deal. That could take the form of them backing Iran on enrichment to 20% if the US does renege.

3) Ahmadinejad's words were playing the west's game. Accept the US' offer, but attach enough conditions so as they are certain to refuse it. Then Iran can go ahead and enrich to 20% itself.

4) Iran fully expects the west to renege and wishes to use their doing so as an excuse to pull out all the stops on its enrichment program.

5) A combination of threats have put Iran in a corner and it has simply decided to back down now and fight another day.

6) It could be Elbaradei's words you posted about yesterday. Someone managed to convince the Iranians that Obama really is looking for a square deal but needs Iran's help for domestic reasons. I sure hope they didn't fall for that.

It could be some combination of the above or it could be something else entirely. Right now, there is no way to know.

Arnold Evans said...

Ahmadinejad's statement is unexpected, meaning that people who didn't expect it, including me, are missing something from our models.

What exactly is missing will become clear in time.

philippe said...

Have you considered the following: the US is putting heavy pressure on China to accept sanctions (via: weapon deal to Taiwan, Dalai Lama visit, free trade, to name a few 'friction points' flaring up the past few days). Now Iran eventually and seemingly accepts the swap deal. To me it sounds a bit like: China getting back at the US, with a 'no need for sanctions', we need to continue talking.

Of course, there are probably quite a few other layers of direct/indirect talking. Clinton flat out refused any deal (exchange) about those 3 hikers lost along the border with Kurdistan, the US selling extra patriot missiles to the Gulf monarchies, ... those oddly remind me of those days in September when Obama came out blustering about the 'secret' plant near Qhom, only for a week later to start talking in Geneva.
The US admin is getting a bit transparent.