February 20, 2015 | Forbes
Why The U.S. Can’t Trust Iran And Its Nuclear Plans
The Obama Administration insists Iran has honored its interim nuclear-agreement commitments and that its progress in enrichment has been halted. It is on the basis of these two assessments that the administration, alongside its European allies, opposes congressional legislation introducing sanctions that would go into effect should nuclear negotiations fail. The White House thinks Iran’s compliance with the terms of the interim deal indicates that an agreement may still be reached. The only problem: Trusting Iran is the surest path to a bad deal.
The history of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs—so full of inconsistencies, prevarications, concealments and outright lies—makes it hard to escape the conclusion that Iran’s claim to be pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes is disingenuous. That is why only draconian restrictions—enforced through intrusive verification and unrestricted inspections over decades—can offer guarantees that Tehran will not try to cheat again.
Since the exposure of Iran’s illicit nuclear facilities at Arak and Natanz in 2002, Tehran’s nuclear program has remained opaque. At a minimum, those revelations show Iran had lied to the international community for more than a decade, as it was busy building those facilities.
That concealment in itself should elicit considerable suspicion and warrant demands that Iran make a full disclosure of the history, nature and extent of its nuclear activities. Exposure of its undeclared facilities gave Tehran a chance to just do that—instead, it chose to defy the international community and pursue its nuclear goals.
The door has always been open for Iran to come clean
For the next three years, Iran played hide-and-seek with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Eventually, in September 2005, the IAEA declared that “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement… constitute non-compliance”and deferred Tehran to the UN Security Council.
Since then, punishment for Iran’s non-compliance has been slow and incremental, always leaving the door open for it to come clean. After two UN sanctions resolutions (1737 and 1747) failed to move Tehran, an August 2007 IAEA-Iranian joint working plan offered Iran a path to address all of the IAEA outstanding concerns about their past activities.
Instead, Tehran stalled for another six years.
In September 2009, President Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown exposed another industrial-size clandestine facility: the Fordow uranium-enrichment plant. Unlike previous discoveries, which Iran had sought to explain away in the context of a civil nuclear program, Fordow was too large to be a research facility and too small for civil purposes. It was, on the other hand, ideal for military-grade enrichment, having been dug deep under a mountain and supervised by Iran’s military.
Iran again demurred and denied the obvious.
Evidence of Iranian nuclear subterfuge
The mounting body of evidence of Iranian nuclear subterfuge led the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano to lament in his February 2010 report Iran’s ongoing failure to address “concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
At that point, a country loath to incur international isolation and eager to maintain economic growth, might recalibrate its course. By then, Iran had twice been offered a list of economic, political and diplomatic incentives in exchange for transparency and verification. The 2006 and 2008 proposals, formulated by the six world powers negotiating with Iran on behalf of the international community, were incorporated in UN Security Council resolution 1929 in June 2010 as a sign that Tehran could choose tantalizing economic incentives over sanctions if it only would own up to its past nuclear activities.
Iran again chose sanctions.
Frustrated with nearly a decade of foot-dragging, the IAEA published an extensive and damning report detailing possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program in November 2011.
As in the past, Tehran dismissed the information as Western “fabrications.”
Since the November 2013 interim agreement, none of the above questions has been addressed, and access to scientists and suspicious sites is still being denied.
Iran’s stalling tactics continue
One thing has changed, though. Rather than recognizing that Iran’s stalling tactics continue; or seeing Iran’s nuclear opaqueness as the greatest obstacle to a good deal; or objecting to a deal that does not fully address Iran’s past nuclear and ballistic missile research, the Obama administration has agreed to defer those issues to the ongoing IAEA work that Iran has stymied for more than a decade.
In June 2003, in a rare moment of public frustration, then-IAEA director Mohammad ElBaradei opined that “Iran should not wait for us to ask questions and then respond; it should come forward with a complete and immediate declaration of all its nuclear activities. That would be the best way to resolve the issues within the next few weeks.”
Twelve years on, ElBaradei’s sound assessment still resonates. Unless the coming nuclear deal rests on an unambiguous accounting of Iran’s nuclear past and present, the country will have obtained what it always wanted: an end to the sanctions regime and an unobstructed path to nuclear weapons.