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Monday, May 21, 2012

Obama to let Iran go nuclear, Israel to consent?

Two deeply disturbing pieces lead to the conclusions that President Obama - desperate to be reelected - is about to pretend that he has reached an agreement with Iran that will allow them to continue on their path toward nuclear weapons, and that Israel's foolish government is about to consent to it.
The outline of the president’s plans to make the Iran nuclear threat go away is pretty clear. The West’s negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad later this month will start the process of backing away from the serious sanctions that were belatedly applied to the regime in the hope that the Iranians will consent to a deal that would, at least in principle, halt their refining of uranium that could make a bomb. If the Iranians agree, then that would lead to more frequent meetings during the summer that could culminate in an agreement. But rather than the harbinger of a successful diplomatic offensive, the administration’s decision to present the Iranians with a present in advance of the meeting will only confirm Tehran’s belief in the president’s weakness and give it even more confidence that the talks are the perfect venue to achieve all of their nuclear goals.

In theory, a deal that would remove the stockpile of weapons grade uranium and halt any more production would hamper Iran’s plans for a bomb. But any agreement that leaves those facilities intact, rather than having them dismantled and which would allow the production of more refined uranium, even if it is supposed to be not useful for a bomb, is the sort of framework the Iranians could use to bypass the restrictions. Moreover, any diplomatic process that can be dragged out for many months before it is put into effect will simply allow Iran more time to get closer to a bomb, and at the end of the process, it could, as it has done with previous Western-brokered deals for uranium shipment, simply opt out of the agreement.

The difference, the senior administration officials are telling us, is that the tough sanctions and plans for an oil embargo on Iran have finally brought them to their knees. In this optimistic view of events, recent statements from the Iranians that they have already beaten the West in the talks are just for domestic consumption and designed to make it easier for the regime to sell the concessions they will have to make to a public that views the nuclear program as an expression of nationalism.

But the problem with Iran’s boasting about its diplomatic victories is that their claims are largely correct. They have crossed every “red line” set out by the West — putting nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities and refining uranium and doing so at grades that could produce weapons, and working on triggers and other devices that have only military applications — and gotten away with it. Any deal that will allow them to keep their nuclear facilities operating and which will scale back sanctions will be an enormous victory for the regime. Such a victory could, without all that much effort to deceive Western inspectors, allow them to continue working toward a nuclear weapon and greatly strengthen it at home.
And Israel's Defense Minister - the man who brought us the second intifadeh - is ready to consent to this.
Though Israel has been expressing zero flexibility regarding a possible deal with Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak a few weeks ago issued a written statement that Israel would consent to Iran's continuing enrichment of uranium to a low level of 3.5 percent, as well as to allowing a few hundred kilograms of 3.5-percent enriched uranium to remain in that country.

"Enrichment percentage" refers to the degree to which natural uranium has been enriched with the U-235 isotope - an isotope which can sustain a chain reaction of nuclear fission. Reactor-grade uranium is enriched to about 3 to 4 percent, while weapons-grade uranium is 90 percent enriched. However, crude nuclear weapons can be built with uranium enriched to as low as 20 percent.

A senior Israeli source said that Barak's remarks, which were shared in private conversations with U.S. officials, contradict the tough line being presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment and give up any enriched uranium it has in its possession.

More recently, Barak has publicly toed Netanyahu's line, but the assessment is that the things the defense minister said in his statement represent the limited concession Israel is willing to make to enable the P5 +1 powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - to continue discussions with Iran.

It seems now that those countries and Iran are seeking an interim agreement, under which Iran would stop enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent. This would mean that the enrichment process at the reinforced underground facility in Fordo, near Qom, would essentially stop. It would also mean Iran would have to give up some 100 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium it already has.

In return, the six powers would cease efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran: While the European Union's oil embargo will go into effect on July 1 as scheduled, as will American sanctions against Iran's central bank - no additional limitations will be imposed. In addition, Iran would be sent a shipment of nuclear fuel rods for its research reactor.
This sounds remarkably like the deal that blew up a year ago, doesn't it?

What could go wrong?

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