Things are seldom what they seem;
Skim milk masquerades as cream
One of the oldest tricks in negotiating is to make the other side think that you regard some point as terribly important when in fact it is not, fight over it tooth and nail, give ground grudgingly, and by so doing win major concessions on points that are actually far more important. It appears that the Iranian negotiations have yielded an agreement that, if implemented and fully complied with by the Iranians, will essentially eviscerate their nuclear program. Iran has cut its centrifuges by two-thirds, and the centrifuges it will use are legacy, several generations behind state of the art. It has agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent necessary for a bomb. A heavy water reactor at Arak will be reconfigured so that it cannot produce plutonium (the Iranians have never had the capability to reprocess such plutonium into bomb cores). The once-secret Fordow uranium enrichment site will be converted into a research center. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will have virtually full-time, soup-to-nuts access, from uranium mining to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and will monitor imports into the country of materials and components that could have potential nuclear applications.
It is telling that a list released by the Israeli government of the improvements it seeks on the deal amounts to tweaks, but does not fundamentally upend the deal. The Iranians could conceivably give ground on some of those items, especially if they become, as seems likely, Republican talking points. While various politicians, media talking heads, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to question Iranian trustworthiness and whether they will live up to a final agreement, if one is reached, the framework cannot be dismissed. Keeping in mind the above caveats about implementation and compliance, this deal, as Patrick Buchanan noted, “Appears to do what Obama says it does: close off every known avenue to an Iranian bomb” (“Will Bob Corker Save the GOP?” 4/7/15, buchanan.org).
It is the very lopsidedness of the deal that should set off alarm bells. Not so much that the Iranians may one day evade its terms and develop nuclear bombs. Even if they did, their arsenal would be minuscule compared to those of five of the six nations that will also sign off on the agreement, and Israel has its bombs as well. Iran would be looking at not even mutually assured destruction should it use its nuclear weapons, only its own assured destruction.
Nevertheless, two facets of the Iranian negotiations don’t add up. First, why was Iran so insistent on keeping its nuclear program? The ready answer, of course, is that it wanted to keep it as a foundation to later develop nuclear weapons. That cannot be dismissed entirely, but they have not pursued such work for at least a decade, and if the outside world were to discover such an effort, Iran would run the very real risk of massive bombing and possibly full-on war. There are those who ascribe an apocalyptic death wish to Iranian leaders, but that has not been the way they have behaved to date. The Iranians say that their nuclear program has been a source of national pride, and that is why they have been adamant about keeping it in some form, and they do have, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the right to engage in peaceful nuclear research.
Why then, did they agree to dial back their nuclear program to such a rudimentary level that there is no way they can discover anything that has not already been discovered by other countries’ much more advanced programs? Is this to be make-work for Iranian nuclear personnel? Does a nation with the world’s fourth largest oil reserves need to develop nuclear power? Why cling so tenaciously to this program that will, once the agreement is implemented, serve so little constructive purpose for the Iranians?
What if Iran already has a bomb, or bombs? Military expert Richard Maybury has suggested that several countries may have nuclear weapons that we don’t know about. There are gaps in records tracking the Soviet Union’s bombs when it dissolved. Some of those bombs may have become available on the black market, where they would have undoubtedly commanded sky-high prices. North Korea or Pakistan, both nuclear powers, might sell bombs at the right price, especially if that price including substantial “commissions” to key officials.
At first blush it may appear farfetched, but even Russia or China could sell bombs to Iran. They are chafing at the US’s unipolar view of the world. Iran would use the bomb under only extreme circumstances, and the Russians or Chinese would undoubtedly extract assurances that an Iranian bomb, if detonated, would blow up in London, Washington, or New York, not Moscow or Beijing. The threat would be clear: a detonation in Russia or China would mean the complete destruction of Iran.
Those who dismisses the Iranian agreement with the argument that Iran will eventually breach it should ponder this question: why would Iran go to all the trouble and expense of secretly developing a nuclear bomb, risking detection and war, if they could simply buy bombs, and, better yet, keep them secret? It would be naive to assert that a black market in nuclear arms is impossible. If Iran were a buyer, the detection risk would be minimal: bombs could be put in ostensibly commercial aircraft, flown from Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, or Karachi to Tehran, from which they would be transported to and hidden away in some remote, deeply fortified bunker. The Iranians might not have much, if any, launch capability, but they could surely smuggle bombs into the US or Europe for either nuclear blackmail or outright detonation.
This gets us back to the old negotiating trick. Iran’s nuclear program, if it was ever important to them, may be much less so now, which is why they have essentially given it away. If Iran already has bombs, they will do everything they must in order to reach an agreement, which by their lights will be irrelevant except for the concessions on sanctions they extract. Easing sanctions will aid their economy, giving the government more wherewithal to, among other things, buy bombs. Signing and then complying in every particular with the agreement will reduce suspicions, give Iran new legitimacy, and probably stop hostile Middle Eastern nations, most importantly Saudi Arabia, from acquiring their own bombs. Meanwhile, Iran will have a nuclear arsenal that only the nation or nations that sold to them will know about. Its leaders will also have the satisfaction of outfoxing the western powers, and discrediting the bellicose rhetoric of despised Israeli and American politicians.
Suspicions have been raised about Obama’s motives for vigorously pursuing this deal (see “He Said That? 4/3/15,” SLL). If one wants to believe the worst about Obama, that would be not that he’s trying to pave the way for Iran to build bombs, but rather that he knows Iran already has bombs, and he’s helping them cover their tracks. That is thrown out as a possibility only, the truth or falsity of which we may never know. However, if you believe that Obama wants to destroy America and is sympathetic to the Islamic cause, especially the Shiite cause, this alternative interpretation fits those beliefs. From Obama’s standpoint, if the agreement eventually goes through and Iran complies with its terms, there will be—just before the 2016 elections—the benefit of embarrassing all those Republicans who spoke so forcefully against it before they even saw its terms. One thing we do know about Obama’s motivations—domestic political considerations are almost always paramount.
FOR THE REMNANT