Monday, 12 October 2009

The Iranian Nuclear Plan

The disclosure of the nuclear facility that is being built at Qom has raised the nerves of the policy community around the world. There is a sudden upsurge in the voices that demand a military response to Iran's defiance of the international community. This however is not a feasible option and diplomatic approach must be more thoroughly explored. It is only very recent that the U.S has engaged in direct negotiations with the Iranians, as the previous Bush administration maintained a hands off approach leaving it to the EU. This failed policy has been rejected by the Obama administration and its efforts to negotiate with Iran must be carefully nurtured and cultivated.

IAEA chief, Mohammed El Baradei said that the talks had been successful and that inspectors would ensure that the Qom facility was for peaceful purposes. He added: “I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation. I continue, of course, to call on Iran to be as transparent as possible.”

There is indeed room for optimism that the Iranian nuclear issue be resolved in a peaceful manner through diplomacy in a manner that El Baradei envisages. The fact that Iran disclosed a letter to the IAEA disclosing its nuclear facility at Qom strongly hints to the fact that it does not completely disregard international opinion. A strong potential motive for the Iranian regime to be sensitive to the international community could be because its stability is questionable. This further equips U.S led diplomacy to be equipped with greater tools that could provide leverage for the Iranian regime to comply. A major concession that Iran has offered to the international community is that Iran is willing to purchase uranium enriched to the grade it requires for its Tehran reactor from a third party, rather than carry out the enrichment itself. This fits in with Iran's claims that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, and needs the fuel to power a research reactor in Tehran.

It would behove the U.S and the IAEA to seriously respond to this gesture. President Ahmadinejad has stated that Iran requires 19.75 percent-enriched uranium. Another Iranian official said that Iran needs up to 300 kg of nuclear fuel to cover the requirements of a reactor in Tehran for a year and a half. Already, IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei has responded to this gesture by declaring that experts will meet in Vienna in mid October with Iran and other members of the international community to discuss the deal for Russia to take some of Iran's processed uranium and enrich it.

Reinforcing the need for diplomacy is a result of the simple fact that strikes on nuclear facilities are difficult to achieve and will not suffice the international community's quest to prevent Iran from reaching the nuclear status. If the international community was unaware of Iran's nuclear facility in Qom which is a few years old now, it is more than likely that it is equally unaware of numerous other sites that are yet to be discovered. Furthermore, an attack on nuclear sites will only delay the Iranian regime's attainment of a nuclear weapon and will not eliminate the threat. Destroying certain components such as the centrifuge cascades will only delay the program by two to three years at best. Advocates of a military response have failed to address measures the international community would have to take to contend with the consequences. Hezbollah and other terrorist organisations would strike creating a terrorist epidemic of which one scenario would be Iranian terrorist proxies destroying the southern Iraqi oil fields. Iran would also close the Straits of Hormuz. This would result in oil prices spiking.

Currently the Iranian population is liberal and pro-Western. This however, should not be taken for granted as this mindset could be turned overnight in the wake of an attack against nuclear facilities.
The Iranian regime could rally the masses around an embattled Persian nationalism that is threatened by foreigners and could provide legitimacy to the sudden need for Iran to militarise its nuclear programme.

Such a nightmare scenario is something that the international community could not hope to contend with as the cascading effects would simply be unmanageable. Thus a mature approach would be a heavily integrated EU and US diplomatic approach towards Iran.