If we can cut a deal with Iran that will allow them to enrich uranium up to 5% purity in exchange for meeting the international community’s demands for transparency on their nuclear activities, that is actually an excellent deal. Part of that deal would entail Iran shipping all its 20% enriched uranium out of the country. I’m not a nuclear scientist, but my understanding is that Iran has no reason to enrich to 20% other than to learn how to enrich to a weapons grade purity. At 5%, they can meet any medical needs they might have. It is unambiguously Iran’s right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferaton Treaty to have a domestic nuclear energy program provided that they meet the other requirements of the treaty. If we insist they do no enrichment at all, even after they meet our demands for transparency and inspections, then we will be the ones violating the NPT. Yet, Congress will not stand for any talk of letting Iran enrich anything, ever, to any degree of purity. The only way around this is to get members of Israel’s cabinet to explain to Congress that the deal makes sense. In an election year, Netanyahu’s government is probably unwilling to do that and, even if they were, the Republicans would almost definitely ignore them and go ahead and politicize the issue. So, I’m not very hopeful that we’re about to see a peaceful and satisfactory breakthrough on the Iranian predicament. Still, there is hope:
Israeli officials have talked of attacking Iranian’s nuclear facilities before they are so advanced and hidden so deeply underground that they are invulnerable to bombs.
But Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an interview last month with the Jerusalem Post, outlined goals that would allow Iran to retain some low-enriched uranium for nonmilitary purposes. He did not call for an end to all enrichment.
“There have been many signals lately that the red line has shifted and they’re no longer pushing for full suspension,” said Michael Singh, who served as President George W. Bush’s top Iran advisor and who strongly opposes allowing Iran to enrich any uranium.
George Perkovich, a nonproliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he was among the U.S. hawks who believed until recently that “you have to hold the line on enrichment by Iran.”
Now, he said, “that view has been overtaken by events.” Iran has enriched more uranium, public support for the program is widespread, and the prospects of giving up all enrichment “has become a nationalist taboo in Iran.”
The real issue is that the hawks around Netanyahu and the neo-conservatives in this country are really pursuing a policy of regime change. Any negotiation that leaves the Mullahs in power in Teheran is not going to be acceptable to them. And they have enough clout to cripple any rational response in DC.