It seems as if Barack Obama has convinced Mohamed ElBaradei that while Iran's nuclear stock is below about the one ton threshold, he or the US would have "negotiating space" to work on a nuclear deal and to discuss US/Iran relations generally. This idea is worth looking at for several reasons.
26:45As a purely practical matter there has never been a serious suggestion that Iran may plausibly leave the NPT and race to build a weapon this year. Famously that would go against a fatwa from Iran's supreme leader. The basic idea of that fatwa, that nuclear weapons are forbidden as immoral is continuously reaffirmed at every level by every single Iranian who could possibly claim to represent Iran's government or nuclear program.
In the last six months Iran needed fuel for a research reactor that produces isotopes for medical purposes for cancer treatment and other we thought that this is a golden opportunity to show good will on both sides Iran agreed that they will use their own enriched uranium to be used for manufacturing of fuel and that was perfect because once you get that fuel out of iran or use it for fuel that would defuse the crisis, would defuse all the cries that Iran might have a breakout scenario and leave the non proliferation treaty. The Obama administration was very excited about that because again, President Obama realized that this would defuse the crisis, give him the space, as he called it he needed to negotiate with Iran on a whole range of issues unfortunately that proposal got stuck on sequencing. Iran said "we're only ready to ship our material out of the country when we've got the fuel". The US and the Europeans said "no you have first to ship it out and you will get the fuel in two years time".
I think frankly there's still a deal. The idea that, and again I'm not getting into the head of the American administration or the Iranian administration but I think there's still a deal to be made. Once the Iranians were and are still ready to get this material into an island in the Persian Gulf. That's what I proposed to them. We'll take custody of it we'll put it into a warehouse completely secured by the IAEA, with our security guards and under 100 satellites. That, frankly, to me would eliminate almost 100 percent of the threat because they could not use it, in any way for any enrichment or weapons related purposes. In addition to that, we probably could have gotten Iran also to sign the additional protocol or apply the additional protocol, so for me that was from a risk perspective a perfect deal. The fact that the material is not out of Iran is not necessarily the most important. The beauty of that deal is that it would have opened the opportunity for negotiation, bilateral negotiation primarily between the US and Iran which would have then dealt with the concern about the nuclear program, all the grievances about human rights, about technology, about sanctions and about the role of Iran positive and negative. Iran never hides that they can have, become be a very positive partner in the Middle East. In the case of Iraq, in the case of Afghanistan, in the case of Syria Lebanon, in Lebanon, they have a lot of influence, they have a lot of assets. To me that deal, as a precursor to what is sooner or later going to happen - a comprehensive negotiation between the US and Iran - is a win-win situation. It is still a deal that could be sold, even now. It is not what you want 100%, it's not what Iranians want 100% but it is the art of the possible. In fact it satisfies the needs of the US by eliminating what they see as a break out scenario.
Maybe more importantly, Iran isn't going to need a nuclear weapon for a substantial period of time. The US is deterred, and will be at least for the next several years by Iran's conventional military and political influence over regions where the US is potentially vulnerable. The US admits that it is deterred from attacking when it describes the benefits of bombing Iran’s nuclear program as not worth the potential costs. The deterrence is confirmed with the results of public war game exercises. The US is deterred from even launching military strikes by Iran’s non-nuclear methods of deterrence. There is, for now, no pressing need for Iran to break its fatwa and lose even the moral advantages of remaining in the NPT.
The idea that by Iran exporting its uranium the US would be any more certain, during a limited negotiating period, that Iran will not rush to build a weapon is dishonest. Assurance that Iran will not build a weapon this year is not what motivates the demand that Iran reduce its uranium stock before negotiations. The US still estimates that Iran could not build a weapon for several years even if it made the decision today. A claim that the US has as an important objective to eliminate what the US openly calculates is a nonexistent near-term breakout capability insults the intelligence of anyone who examines the issue closely.
US dishonesty about Iran's nuclear issue is the usual state of affairs because the US is fundamentally trying to use the IAEA, NPT and UN Security Council to accomplish the objective of sustaining Israel's regional monopoly of nuclear capability which is an objective at odds with both general fairness and the purpose of the IAEA and NPT. The US, because of its commitment to Israel is continuously positioned such that it must be transparently deceptive in it's Middle East policy. This is one case. The sanctions against Iraq, initially imposed supposedly against chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, but once imposed expanded by the US declaration that sanctions would not be lifted until regime change is another example of US policy deception motivated by the US commitment to Israel.
(The sanctions resolutions are still in place today, held so the US can have leverage over Iraq's elected government.)
So what is the purpose of the demand that Iran export enough uranium that its stock is less than one ton? It is exactly a more strenuous and even less justifiable version of the Bush administrations demand that Iran suspend enrichment. It serves exactly the same purpose, has exactly the same effect and differs only in being less reasonable for several reasons.
The purpose of the suspension demand is that if Iran submits before negotiations, negotiations can proceed on the basis of answering the question, how can the suspension be made permanent. If enrichment is suspended for negotiations, the US is comfortable adopting the strategy it employs in North Korea: never ending "negotiations" to continue without any resolution until after regime change.
Under Bush, If Iran suspended enrichment for "negotiations" then the US would have had no reason for negotiations to ever end. The concessions the US made to get negotations are the only concessions the US need ever make.
Under Obama, if Iran agrees to a principle that by one mechanism or another it will never have a ton of LEU during "negotiations" we are in as a practical matter, exactly the same situation. The issue is not this year, but a negotiating period that can last decades with Iran's nuclear program neutralized until somehow or other - for example through regime change - Iran reverts to the pro-US foreign policy it implemented under the Shah.
Obama is asking for more because while Bush asked that Iran stop enriching, Obama asks that Iran first create the situation that would have prevailed if Iran had stopped enriching under Bush, and then in practical terms stop enriching.
Needless to say, as the US refusal under Obama to accept Iran as a nuclear capable nation like Japan, Brazil or dozens of other NPT non-weapons states has become clear, we can comfortably predict that Iran will refuse to submit to this demand. The US is trying to carve out a separate group of NPT non-weapons states that, because they are not politically cooperative with the US, must accept greater limits on their access to technology. What the US is attempting is expressly forbidden by the NPT that describes that the right to technology applies “without discrimination”.
I'm disturbed by pronouncements from the Obama administration that claim to believe that with a little more pressure Iran will be forced to submit. That is a really false and dangerous idea. The Obama administration is asking for much more than the Bush administration did but even that should have been immediately clear to be more than Iran could be compelled to accept by any sanctions regime.
Iran will not respond by submitting. Iran will respond by becoming more confrontational. Neither side wants a full shooting war, but Obama would be demonstrating that unlike late-term Bush, the US no longer wants to deescalate tensions work jointly on issues of mutual concern.
The US did not get a bad bargain from choosing to deescalate symbolized by issuing and releasing to the public the November 2007 NIE. The Iraq-surge could have had the exact opposite result of US casualties spiralling upward and the country becoming more chaotic. It will be very dangerous to try to execute an Afghanistan surge immediately after symbolically declaring that the cold war with Iran is resuming.
That is exactly the impact, and in practical terms the only impact - a UNSC will have. I have some degree of optimism that the US should be aware of this and hopefully is aware. If the US understands the danger - to the US - of a Security Council resolution (as it should and at least in some parts of government, especially the military, very likely does), then it is not serious about getting a resolution but instead is posturing for a better negotiating position.
For everyone's sake - let's all hope.