Iran Plays Games with U.N. Inspectors
June 12, 2012
Ten years of nuclear brinkmanship with Iran produced the same results, with Tehran tap-dancing around complying with U.N.’s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. IAEA inspectors are concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons research at its underground Parchin facility and other unknown locations around the country. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad deny that Iran pursues any military applications, despite fears raised by the international community. “We’re disappointed,” said U.S.’s IAEA acting envoy Robert Woods. Nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna resulted in no agreement on how to manage Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, now producing enough fissile material for multiple warheads. IAEA officials want Tehran to agree to regular open inspections at its nuclear facilities.
U.S. officials want compliance with an IAEA inspections routine but have no means to coerce Tehran into compliance. All the saber-rattling by the U.S. and Israel has stiffened Iran’s resistance to atomic inspections, telling the Iranian regime that the U.N. can’t stop or modify its nuclear program. Former President George W. Bush gave up on pressuring Tehran into making concessions. Obama has committed publicly to keeping nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands, though, with Iran flaunting inspections, it’s doubtful the current sanctions will force Iran to handover keys to the U.N. to inspect its atomic facilities. “Yesterday’s outcome highlights Iran’s continued failure to abide by its commitment to the IAEA, and further underscores the need for it to work with the IAEA to address international community’s real concerns,” said Woods discouraged by the slow progress.
Iran committed to work with the IAEA to prove that U.S. allegations about its nuclear bomb development were “forged and fabricated.” Discussion in Vienna on an agreement to allow U.N. inspectors unfettered access to Iran nuclear sites hit roadblocks. “The IAEA and Iran have on some points significantly diverging ideas on how a new agreement should look,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. U.S. officials publicly decry Iran’s resistance to IAEA inspections, yet, at the same time, use the IAEA to buy more time before the November 6 presidential elections. With the country evenly divided five months before the elections, the White House seeks to defuse any domestic and global situation likely to rock the boat. Any military intervention between now and the election would potentially threaten Obama reelection bid.
Iran’s public remarks often refer to the U.S. general election and problems in the Eurozone, preventing the West from military action. Even Israel’s periodic saber-rattling is taken with a grain of salt in Tehran. “If the West makes a serious offer to Iran, we could see real progress. But if Moscow fails to move forward, we’ll have a big problem,” said Hibbs, hinting at possible military options. Expected nuclear diplomacy with Tehran in Moscow June 18-19 is supposed to produce a new IAEA inspection document. Moscow and Beijing have generally supported Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for “peaceful purposes.” Both have resisted attempts by the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, especially the U.S., Britain, including Germany, to tighten the economic sanctions now threatening Iran’s oil sales.
Whatever “negative” signals emerged in Vienna, it’s likely to return when the high-wire act shifts to Moscow. Ongoing U.S. elections, and the expected retirement of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, prevent the White House from pushing too hard before November. When the new sanctions kick in July 1, it’s doubtful it will have much effect on Tehran, already engaged in cryptic oil sales designed to defeat U.N. efforts to stop Iran’s enrichment activities. Tehran appears to stall to clean up any residual radiation from weapons’ tests and to strategize how to keep IAEA inspectors out of key facilities. When the EU oil embargo starts July 1, no one really knows whether Tehran will lash out. Iran’s been warning Western powers that all bets are off in the Persian Gulf. So far, Obama has ignored Iran’s warnings and ordered U.S. carrier groups to go through the Persian Gulf.
Heading to Moscow for a nuclear agreement with Tehran, the U.S. shouldn’t hold its breath about major breakthroughs. Neither side wants to push the issue until after U.S. presidential elections. Between now and November, whether in Moscow or elsewhere, both sides will save face and buy time, ignoring Israel’s warning of unilateral military action. While Israel faces heated rhetoric from Iran’s propaganda machine, they face no real threats from Iran’s nuclear program to justify military action. It took Iran eight years to beat back Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War [1980-1988]. It took U.S. Operation Iraqi Freedom only three weeks to topple Saddam April 9, 2003. Iran’s mullahs know the consequences of pushing the U.S. too far. No matter what the stalling tactics, Tehran will eventually concede to some type of agreement that satisfies the U.S. and U.N.—maybe not Israel.John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma
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