Iran Rope-A-Dopes the West Again

By IndepthAfrica
In Middle East
May 23rd, 2012
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Bruce Thornton
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.

Clearly, the Iranians have taken the measure of the West and the U.S. for thirty years. No matter how much humiliation they have inflicted, no matter how much American blood they have on their hands, the U.S. has not done anything to convince the mullahs that there is a price to pay for their aggression. The Iranians know that diplomatic “engagement” and “outreach,” that photogenic “meetings” and “conferences” are mere excuses not to act, and are an indulgence of that peculiar Western delusion that a violent aggressor can be bargained or talked out of his aggression, rather than seeing that for tyrants diplomacy is, as Robert Conquest put it, merely a “technical adjunct” to their aggression.

Indeed, since 1979, Iran has seen these offers of friendship and engagement as signs of weakness to be met with scorn and further aggression. When Obama came into office, he was eager to discard the “cowboy” crudity of George Bush and his simplistic “axis of evil” rhetoric. In his inaugural address, Obama told Iran and the Muslim world that he sought “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” and offered to deal with the Iranians “without preconditions.” Yet every outreach was met with contempt. Obama’s Persian new year greeting in 2009 was met with the “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement that “the path of Iran’s nuclear progress could not be blocked.” A personal letter to Khamenei a few months later calling for “co-operation in regional and bilateral relations” was met with the brutal crackdown in June on Iranians protesting the rigged presidential elections. Obama’s refusal to support even verbally the protestors until it was too late didn’t earn any goodwill from the regime either. After Iran failed to disclose the uranium-enrichment facility in Qum, Obama rewarded the mullahs by saying, “We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran.” And don’t forget that during that whole time, and continuing until today, Iran has been helping terrorists travel to Iraq to kill Americans, and providing them with advanced weapons, funds, and training.

Given this long record of American appeasement in the face of Iranian aggression, why should the regime think anything has changed? Sure, the sanctions are biting, and Obama has finally wised up a bit about the reliability of Iranian promises and intentions. But his public undercutting of Israel during the past year, and his obvious reluctance to have a foreign policy crisis explode during his reelection campaign, suggests to the Iranians that they face no credible threat of military action, and so can once more manipulate the diplomatic process long enough to keep the Israelis at bay while the mullahs move closer to manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

Even more dangerous, any possible agreement likely to be reached in Baghdad cannot guarantee that Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons, particularly if Iran is allowed to keep enriching uranium at any rate of purity. As Saddam Hussein demonstrated, inspectors can be manipulated, obstructed, and run around for years. Access to sites can be limited. Nuclear facilities can be hidden, their existence denied. This rope-a-doping can go on indefinitely, as long as the mullahs are convinced that the West will not use military force, and that the U.S. will discourage Israel from doing so. And don’t forget: no matter what happens with inspections or agreements, the Iranians will still have the technical knowledge and the facilities necessary for producing weapons, and can simply bid their time until they believe circumstances are favorable for restarting their program––the same game Hussein was playing until the 2003 invasion destroyed his regime. Any agreement with the Iranians, then, promises to end up being “of no further significance whatsoever,” as Hitler described the famous “peace in our time” pledge he and Neville Chamberlain signed in Munich.

There’s only one way to ensure that a regime of religious fanatics does not acquire the weapons that will compromise our national interests and security, and those of our allies in the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has articulated it clearly: “Iran must end all enrichment of nuclear material, Iran must remove from its territory all material that has been enriched up until now, and Iran must dismantle the underground nuclear facility in Qum.” Any deal that settles for anything less is simply accepting that Iran will become a nuclear power.

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