BEATING THE NUCLEAR CLOCK
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday September 2, 2009
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs is telling us that the United States has not yet heard back from Iran regarding the mid-September deadline to negotiate.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was quoted on Tuesday on Iran's Arabic TV network al Alam, saying that Iran now has a counter proposal and is ready to negotiate with the West.
I expect that an Iranian response will be forthcoming. I do not expect it to be a very mature or well delineated response.
The clock is ticking.
The Iranians are game players and they derive great pleasure from beating the West at its own games. There is a long history of gaming between the United States and Iran and just because Barack Obama is new to the game, the Iranians are not about to cut him any slack.
Iran plays to win. As the deadline crept closer and Western threats of more significant sanctions against Iran became more realistic, Iran opened its doors to the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency). Feigning nuclear transparency, Iran allowed international nuclear inspectors from the United Nations to inspect their nuclear facilities. To the uninitiated game player, it appeared as if Iran was complying with international demands.
The report composed by the IAEA indicated that Iran was indeed becoming more transparent, more willing to divulge their nuclear plans and capabilities. According to the report Iran has slowed its uranium enrichment program, but that observation raises several red flags because there is also credible information indicating that Iran has investigated the technology necessary to produce nuclear weapons.
The end result is that, by allowing inspectors to enter Iran when the timing was right for Iran and not a minute before, Iran may successfully sway the majority of Western nations into believing that they are, indeed, playing by the rules of the nuclear game. And in the statement that Iran released in response to the IAEA report Iran maintains that now there is proof positive that Iranian intentions are peaceful - just as they have been claiming all along,
There are still two options open to Western nations, two means by which the West can force Iran to not only abandon the pretense of conformity but, and more importantly, to abandon the race to develop nuclear weapons. The first option involves the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. They are the only countries in a position to convincingly threaten Iran, the only countries with the muscle and the backing to carry through on their threats of sanctions. The problem with this otherwise august group is that they are united in indecision.
The unofficial spokesperson for those Security Council member countries most skeptical of US/Western policy regarding Iran is Russia. Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, made it very clear that the way to handle the Iranian nuclear issue is not through military strikes but through diplomatic means.
The problem with this option is that it plays right into Iran's hands. The Iranians have proven themselves extremely adroit at out-maneuvering the United States and the West in diplomatic games.
The best example of this is the way in which Iran has co-opted the IAEA by proposing that the next IAEA meeting they initiate legislation that would condemn any military strike against any nuclear facility in the world. The move is a perfect block against Israel and the United States. It is no secret that Israel feels most threatened by Iran's nuclear potential and has a defensive, pre-emptive strike plan in the works.
In the end, Israel will be condemned for conducting a defensive raid and Iran will waltz away unscathed, uncensored and un-sanctioned for aggressively producing the nuclear material in the first place. And when it happens, the majority of UN member nations will side with Iran against Israel - especially because regardless of the veracity of their findings, Iran has opened its doors to nuclear inspection. Iran needs international support in order to stand up against the United States and in putting forth this legislation Iran has found the way to force the US to back down.
The second option involves taking advantage of one of Iran's few vulnerable points. Iran may be the fifth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, but yet, about half of Iran's gasoline must be imported.
Iran is heavily dependent on refined oil. They import from all over, but most of all, they import locally from Arab countries. And these Arab countries, like the West, view a nuclear Iran as a significant threat. Actually, almost every Arab country in the Middle East considers Iran to be the most significant internal and external threat that they regularly confront.
The Arab countries of the Middle East, Iran's neighbors, must be convinced to shut down the refined oil spigot and to turn off the energy switch. Then, and only then, will the West have any real leverage and any chance at influencing Iran and having the Iranians adjust their nuclear policy to one that the world can live with.
The game is not over and time is running out.
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