Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced on Tuesday that Iran would agree “quite soon” to allow IAEA inspectors to search for any evidence that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program has been directed towards military applications. The IAEA has been particularly interested in the Parchin military complex, where it is suspected the Iranians have been testing triggering mechanisms for nuclear bombs. This announcement came a day before the start of talks in Baghdad between the Iranians and the “P5 + 1” powers (the permanent Security Council nations and Germany). These talks are aimed at reaching an “agreement on the framework of the beginning of a compromise”–– as the New York Times describes with a straight face this laughably minimalist goal–– which would limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium. The deal also arrives six weeks before European sanctions on Iranian oil imports kicks in on July 1.
The timing of this paltry “agreement” announced by the IAEA suggests that the Iranians are once again rope-a-doping the U.N. and the West, playing for time by exploiting both Obama’s fear of an Israeli attack before the elections, and the Europeans’ usual preference for using diplomatic words to avoid military deeds. Thus this latest “breakthrough” is nothing more than another Iranian tactic in its long-term strategy for acquiring nuclear weapons. As Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak responded to the announcement, “The Iranians appear to be trying to reach a technical deal that will create an appearance as if there is progress in the talks to remove some of the pressure ahead of the talks in Baghdad and to postpone an escalation in sanctions.” Indeed, using the talks to ease sanctions is clearly what the Iranians are up to. Parliament Chairman Ali Larijani ordered the West to “stop the shell game they have played on Iran,” since it would be “improper” for the P5+1 powers to negotiate while imposing tighter sanctions. The implication is that relaxing sanctions is a precondition for any agreement.
But even if the Iranians sign the deal with the IAEA, and even if some more definitive agreement is reached in Baghdad, the problem of a nuclear Iran will not be solved, but merely delayed. The history of North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons suggests the playbook Iran is following. In 1994, North Korea signed an agreement that called for the North to shut down its plutonium-based Yongbyon nuclear reactor in exchange for help in building two nuclear reactors for producing electricity. Eight years later, the Koreans admitted to a U.S. delegation that all along it had been enriching uranium. The next year, the North withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and began the “six-nation” negotiations over its nuclear program. That gabfest masked the ongoing development of nuclear weapons, which Korea announced it possessed a year later. Subsequent years saw more promises of cooperation and action by the Koreans when food-aid or other economic help was needed, followed by further provocations and threats, followed in turn by more Western concessions, starting the cycle all over again. Meanwhile the North has continued testing and developing missiles, threatening its neighbors, and providing rogue regimes like Iran and Syria with nuclear technology and know-how.
Given the success of the North Koreans, the Iranians are following the same strategy for becoming a nuclear power, combining diplomatic engagement, threatening bluster, meaningless “agreements,” and duplicitous evasion in order to keep the West off balance. Thus it’s no coincidence that on the same day talks begin in Baghdad the Iranians are launching a satellite on a missile that could be adapted for delivering a nuclear warhead. Meanwhile as the diplomatic dance proceeds, the centrifuges are spinning and nuclear facilities are being buried deep underground, activities that will continue until it’s too late or too costly for the West to do anything about Iran’s nukes.
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