Monday, May 17, 2010
Iran had, according to Iranwatch.com, 2144 kgs of low enriched uranium as of February 23, 2010. It was processing uranium at a rate Iranwatch calculated to be 3.78 kilograms per day, and has been stable at around the level for around two years. Rounding down, Iran would be expected to have about 300 kgs more than it did then, so something like 2400 kilograms.
Estimating that around 1000 kilograms could be further enriched in a matter of months to make a critical mass of highly enriched uranium, if the US accepts this deal, Iran will not lose its status as nuclear capable, by the definition the US has been claiming to use for Iran at least since October, for even one second.
The deal presented in public in October was a terrible deal for Iran because the US would retain leverage that it could use to pressure Iran to suspend enrichment before Iran received its fuel. The US could, and would have used delivery of the fuel itself (using the same pretexts that Russia has used to delay Bushehr and the anti-air defense systems Iran has purchased) as an additional lever of pressure to restrain Iran's nuclear program.
The deal presented in the first reports from Iran (thanks Lysander) does not advance the US position regarding Iran's nuclear program at all. Turkey will have credibly committed to return the LEU, but it does not matter much because if the US was to balk, next say next year, the 1200 kgs of LEU in Turkey will not change the strategic situation since Iran will again by then have well over 2000 kgs of LEU in its own territory.
There is no important difference between a deal in which Iran gives up 1200 of 2400 kgs of low enriched uranium and a deal in which Iran just buys the fuel with cash.
The remaining questions are: 1) is there an Iranian commitment to a fuel bank, or other pretext to send more uranium out of the country. I could see Iran export even more uranium without harming its interests as long as it does not relinquish its rights or give the US any additional way to apply pressure. Iran might reasonably agree to participate in a fuel bank in exchange for Bushehr starting, as long as it is understood that such participation is voluntary and can be adjusted as Iran's needs or situation change. Iran can give out a lot more uranium than 1200 kgs without suffering any medium or long term strategic setback. 2) how will the US react. This is a strategic victory for the US in that the US now has a pretext for giving up a sanctions drive that could have been, after the dust settled, devastating to the US regional position.
The United States cannot have sanctions and cooperation with Iran over Afghanistan at the same time. And without cooperation over Afghanistan, the United States will not be able to stablize that country given the amount of troops the US is able to allocate. A sanctions resolution really threatens to turn Afghanistan by itself into an eventual defeat for the US - in which the US just runs out of steam and retreats from the country in disgrace and exhausted.
The United States now has the opportunity to "grudgingly" accept a TRR deal and claim that it builds enough confidence to begin formal talks. The US still claims that Iran could not produce a weapon for several years and that somehow US sabotage efforts have given the US more time than it feared it may have. The second claim is questionable, but it is better for the US to act as if it believes it in order to salvage Afghanistan.
The US hoped in fall 2009, with the Qom revelation, with the still ongoing protests, with the ascension to director of the IAEA of a loyal pro-American and with the harsh IAEA board resolution that it could pressure Iran to accept a poor deal. That hope has been shattered. Iran was never in as weak a position as US officials seemed to believe. If the US had more accurately guaged Iran's position, it could have gotten at least a better face-saving deal in October.
It has been so long, but if anyone can remember, in the fall 2009 there was still a Western consensus that somehow the US could convince Iran that the US or Israel had a credible military option, and that brandishing the military option might, still scare Iran into submitting to US demands.
The amount that perceptions of Iran's situation have changed in informed Western circles over the past six or eight months nearly defies belief. If the US is willing, now, to accept what US Defense Secretary Gates wrote in a memo that was leaked to the New York Times, the true proposition that the United States does not have any effective option that it can use to get a better deal than what has been presented, then there is a good chance that a very bad outcome can be averted.
Posted by Arnold Evans at 2:56 AM