Monday, May 17, 2010

The Latest "Deal" With Iran

Let me disagree with Geoffrey Forden on the Iran deal. Yes, we’ve heard this over and over again. Yes, Iran is playing the United States and others. Yes, we’ve set ourselves up for this. But I think in a different way than Geoffrey is saying.

When the deal was first interpreted, back in the Bush administration, as being directed at getting Iran’s enriched uranium out of the country, it seemed to me to be a stupid thing to say in public, if that was indeed the goal. Everyone could figure it out, of course, but saying it was sticking a finger in Iran’s eye.

And, of course, that was under the larger goal of ending Iran’s enrichment program, which I also thought was a dumb goal. Dumb goals lead to dumb behavior.

I would have made the goal to bring Iran into full conformity with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the norms of behavior exhibited by other non nuclear weapon signatories of that treaty. That would have allowed enrichment under careful IAEA supervision. It would have insisted on explanations that Iran has still not provided for previous documents and, perhaps, actions. It would have made the basis for those allegations available to all, as Iran would be expected to make their information.

But that didn’t happen.

So the Obama administration inherited some dumb goals. Changing those goals would entail renouncing a lot of work done by our European allies and taking a lot of flack from the US right wing, which hates treaties and wants a war with Iran. There would also be beating of war drums and perhaps more in Israel.

So that business about getting the enriched uranium out of the country had to continue. It seems to be a favorite of the news media, providing conflict and something to focus on that has yes-no sorts of answers instead of that icky science stuff that the IAEA focuses on. I don’t believe the administration has actually said, we want to get that stuff out of Iran, although this
While it would be a positive step for Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium off of its soil as it agreed to do last October…
could be interpreted that way, and so we will continue to hear about that. (NYT, WaPo, ISIS)

The question of where and when the enriched uranium goes is a sideshow. What we need is for Iran to act like a responsible party to the NPT. And, um, agreeing to a deal (although have all parties in Teheran agreed?) just as sanctions are being considered isn’t the most credible position to take.

There are some good aspects to this deal. Brazil and Turkey negotiated it; part of the message of President Obama’s security summit a few weeks back was that all NPT signatories have a stake in others’ behavior, and, in general, involvement of more nations is a good thing. At the very least, it encourages them to set good examples, and Brazil and Turkey are nations that might be willing to consider nuclear weapons of their own.

The Wall Street Journal may be correct about the best move for the US to make: declare victory and accept the deal. That would make it possible to move on to more productive goals.

Update: Stephen Walt's take.

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