This Week: Iran’s nuclear program

The IAEA Board meets this week, and will receive the latest report from the Secretary General on Iran’s nuclear program. Since Yukiya Amano’s assumption of the lead post at the IAEA, reports have been more critical of Iran’s failure to ‘implement a number of its obligations’. But there are few new triggers in this report that the US and its allies can point to in justifying calls for new sanctions. In any case, it is certain that Russia and China would oppose any such moves, for now. As it is, it appears that there are greater splits in the international community opening up on the sanctions tactic, as US and European moves to increase unilateral sanctions contrast with Russian, Turkish and Chinese efforts to increase trade.

There may a flurry of reports on the inside pages, but this story is unlikely to hit the headlines this week, despite the best efforts of many within the Israeli and US communities. Less alarmist commentators are all for now more fascinated at present with the bigger region-shifting events happening in north Africa and the efforts of Arab elites to maintain control over restless populations. And whilst both the Israelis and Iranians will, for completely different reasons, point to the prospects of this transformation strengthening the hand of Tehran in the region, the reality is far more complex and less benign to Khamenei’s Administration.

Nevertheless, Iran’s nuclear program and the responses of its antagonists deserve continued attention. In December and January the news was all about negotiations… those appear stalled, and now everyone is back on the subject of how long Iran is away from a weapon capability.

Recent evidence from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month repeated the widely-held view that Iran was intent on developing a nuclear weapon capability, but also that a decision had not been made to follow through with a full weapon program. His conclusion that whilst Iran was technically capable of producing a nuclear weapon in the near future, the central issue ultimately was Iran’s political will to follow through. This opinion deserves underlining. It implies that if we are serious about avoiding the otherwise inevitable acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran, we have to see them as negotiating partners, providing incentives to cooperation in a bigger, grand strategy that brings into more positive relationship with the broader international community. A country with one of the world’s strongest ratings of public support for nuclear power, and a regular bank note that sports the atomic symbol, is not one that is going to change its mind on nuclear power any time soon simply because of pressure that most of the Iranian elite perceive as motivated by imperialistic attempts to keep the country under the thumb. A strategy of isolation, sabotage, sanctions or other threats will at best only delay the program, and certainly strengthen the resolve within Iran to move ahead with it. A transformed strategy based upon credible offers made with patience that recognizes many of the grievances underlying the sense of injustice might just persuade Iran to play ball. We still have time.


These are the personal views of the author.

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