The hawks and neoconservatives are squawking, as usual, about Iran, and now a bipartisan passel of senators, including hawks, neocons and a couple of Democrats obviously under the spell of the Zionist lobby has written to President Obama to demand that the United States not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Why are they doing that? Precisely because the administration is prepared to offer Iran the right-to-enrich in the current round of talks between Iran and the P5+1. At least, that's what the rumor mill in Washington is saying.
First, the senators. “We believe that it is critical that the United States and our partners make clear that, given the government of Iran’s pattern of deception and non-cooperation, its government cannot be permitted to maintain any enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future. We would strongly oppose any proposal for a diplomatic endgame in which Iran is permitted to continue these activities in any form.” You can read the whole letter, thanks to The Cable’s Josh Rogin, who first reported it.
Needless to say, the senators’ stand is ignorant nonsense. There’s no solution to the Iran standoff that doesn’t include continued uranium enrichment by Iran, accepted in exchange for Iran’s compliance with a strict and intrusive inspections regime that goes far beyond the IAEA’s current role.
Although the first two days of talks this week didn’t accomplish much, it’s critically important that the talks are happening, and both Iran and the United States are making positive noises about them. Iran, for its part, after saying all along that it wouldn’t even discuss its nuclear program, did exactly that, and the two sides have agreed to continue talking and to meet again, possibly as soon as January, in Turkey. The choice of Turkey is a particulary good sign, since the Turks had repeatedly offered their good offices as mediators in the dispute, and last spring Brazil and Turkey tried to restart the talks by working out an updated version of the October 2009 deal that later fell apart.
As the Los Angeles Times reports:
The choice of Istanbul as the location for the next meeting appears to be a compromise. The United States and its European allies had resisted meeting this week in Istanbul, arguing privately that the Turks were not a neutral party but had taken Iran's side.
The scuttlebutt in Washington is that the Obama administration is prepared, going into the talks, to present Iran with a very favorable offer. According to insiders, they’ll ask Iran to ship nearly all of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for reprocessing into fuel rods. (Last year, the deal was for Iran to ship the bulk of its LEU to Russia and France, but the French have acted so annoyingly obstreperous that this time they’re being shut out of the deal.) Some of the LEU would be further enriched for use in the medical-use Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). But since the TRR doesn’t really need very much fuel, the rest of Iran’s LEU would be transformed into fuel rods for the just-opened, Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant. That’s important, because it allows Iran to claim that its enrichment program is designed to produce fuel for Bushehr, not for a weapon. If Iran does this, the United States will agree to allow Iran to keep its current centrifuge program spinning, producing more LEU, which could be recycled into fuel in Russia, as long as Iran doesn’t add more centrifuges or expand its centrifuge program. (Right now, Iran is having trouble keeping those centrifuges operating, and according to one source the international sanctions against Iran are effective in preventing Iran from acquiring the materials it needs to build more, anyway.) And, of course, Iran would have to accede to the stricter IAEA oversight.
Not a bad deal. But Lieberman and Co. in the Senate are all agitated.
So far, Iran has been on its best behavior in Geneva. That hasn’t stopped some from trying to characterize Iran in the very worst light. Last month, an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated and another one nearly suffered the same fate, most likely the result of some foreign intelligence service running wetworks in Iran. But, in an outrageous piece of reporting by Steven Erlanger in the New York Times, we get this:
Iran’s public stance has been aggressive. On a visit to Athens on Monday, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, blamed foreign agents for killing the nuclear scientist. "We believe some of the secret foreign services have been involved," Mr. Mottaki said. "Those who think murders and military violence can destroy nuclear technology have made a big mistake.”
That’s aggressive? To denounce a foreign-run assassination operation run against your scientists?
In any case, let’s hope the talks stay on course.