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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Obama playing for time on Iran

The Obama administration believes it has more time to allow sanctions to work as a result of the uprising against the Iranian government (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
In interviews, Mr. Obama’s strategists said that while Iran’s top political and military leaders remained determined to develop nuclear weapons, they were distracted by turmoil in the streets and political infighting, and that the drive to produce nuclear fuel appeared to have faltered in recent months.


Although repeated rounds of sanctions over many years have not dissuaded Iran from pursuing nuclear technology, an administration official involved in the Iran policy said the hope was that the current troubles “give us a window to impose the first sanctions that may make the Iranians think the nuclear program isn’t worth the price tag.”

While outsiders have a limited view of Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration officials said they believed that the bomb-development effort was seriously derailed by the exposure three months ago of the country’s secret enrichment plant under construction near the holy city of Qum. Exposure of the site deprived Iran of its best chance of covertly producing the highly enriched uranium needed to make fuel for nuclear weapons.

In addition, international nuclear inspectors report that at Iran’s plant in Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges spin to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel, the number of the machines that are currently operating has dropped by 20 percent since the summer, a decline nuclear experts attribute to technical problems. Others, including some European officials, believe the problems may have been accentuated by a series of covert efforts by the West to undermine Iran’s program, including sabotage on its imported equipment and infrastructure.
The sanctions in question are the same ones they've been discussing for several months, which would target the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). At this point, the Obama administration has decided that Iran has no breakout option for at least 18 months, and they apparently believe they have gotten Israel to go along.
“For now, the Iranians don’t have a credible breakout option, and we don’t think they will have one for at least 18 months, maybe two or three years,” said one senior administration official at the center of the White House Iran strategy. The administration has told allies that the longer time frame would allow the sanctions to have an effect before Iran could develop its nuclear ability.

Another administration official said that Israeli officials, while still publicly hinting that they might take military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, “now feel that what’s happening in Iran makes the country vulnerable to real sanctions,” and might give Mr. Obama more time to persuade China and Russia to go along. A senior Israeli diplomat in Washington said that in back-channel conversations “Obama has convinced us that it’s worth trying the sanctions, at least for a few months.”
The article also notes that the existence of the Qom facility was confirmed by "Iranian nuclear spies recruited by Europe and Israel." Hmmm.

The biggest problem with sanctions is that to be effective, the Obama administration is going to have to get the Chinese, the Russians, and most importantly, the Europeans to play along. I would rate the Chinese as the least likely to play along, the Russians as somewhat unlikely to play along and the Europeans as most likely to play along, but trade with Iran anyway through the back door.

While there may be an opportunity here for sanctions to have an impact, there's a long way to go until that can happen.


At 3:18 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

For sanctions to do any good, the US needs an end game in Iran. Does it have one?

Otherwise all it'll amount to is Obama fiddling while Iran burns.


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