Reuters reported on Monday that Iran would take another step to reduce its acknowledged stockpile of nuclear material over the course of the newly extended period of negotiations. For each of the seven months, about 5 kg of uranium oxide will reportedly be converted into nuclear fuel, making it more difficult to utilize for weaponization.
This news, however, comes from unidentified diplomatic sources and from the US-based Arms Control Association, and it is not clear that Iran has acknowledged such an agreement. Indeed, previously claims of compromise have been explicitly denied by Iranian officials and contradicted with the sort of aggressive rhetoric that has defined the Islamic Republic’s positions for 35 years.
While this latest claim of compromise has yet to be confirmed or denied on the Iranian side, it is certainly at odds with the tone being advanced by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Gulf News reports that as part of a Navy Week ceremony on Sunday, Khamenei directed his country’s armed forces to ignore any apparent improvement in political relations between Iran and the West, and to expand their military capabilities and combat readiness.
Iranian military figures, especially including commanders in the regime’s elite military guard have regularly boasted of technological advancements and enhanced production of weapons, with many of these often dubious claims being phrased in terms of readiness for conflict with the West or with Israel. Gulf News indicates that Revolutionary Guards head Mohammad Ali Jafari said recently, “The range of [our] missiles covers all of Israel today. That means the fall of the Zionist regime, which will certainly come soon.”
Zawya notes that a similar tone appeared in comments made Sunday by Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council. In rejecting the prospect of UN inspections of Iran’s ballistic missile program, which could be utilized for the delivery of nuclear warhead in the future, Shamkhani taunted apparent Western unwillingness to exert pressure on this and similar issues: “The enemies are not able to realize military threats against Iran… The military option against Iran is not on the table due to its high costs for the counter side.”
Iran’s refusal of inspections to its ballistic missiles is in line with the regime’s stalling and lack of cooperation with other attempts at inspecting the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency reiterated last week that Iran has failed to provide answers on key issues of concern, and that it has also placed considerable limits on access to sites where illicit research and development may have taken place.
An article at the Post and Courier emphasizes that insufficient inspections are serious cause for concern in light of expert estimates regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which generally put it within four months of being able to breakout to development of a nuclear bomb. The article adds Iran’s very limited concessions amidst negotiations, including the past conversion of uranium oxide, have pushed its capabilities back by a period of mere weeks, and that even this progress is easily reversible if Iran obtains new and more advanced centrifuges that are capable of enriching a larger amount of uranium at a faster rate.
Monday’s reports about an agreement for further uranium oxide conversion claim that the regime has also agreed to not pursue such advanced centrifuges, but this too remains unconfirmed and cannot be said to be formally agreed unless it becomes part of a final agreement that is signed on or before the new June deadline for talks. Ayatollah Khamenei has emphasized throughout the talks that Iran would agree to no limits whatsoever upon its enrichment capability.
The Supreme Leader’s comments support the conclusion that Iran has no intentions of giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. This conclusion is expressed in an article in the National Interest, which looks at the issue in historical context attempts to maintain an objective view of Iran’s motivations. The author points out that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons was already established under the regime of the Shah. He adds that the strategic significance of possessing such weapons has only grown stronger amidst the international isolation and regional conflict surrounding the current regime.
The author agrees with the Post and Courier about the current short breakout period, which could allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon in 2016. He adds that this is the earliest the United States is likely to seriously confront the regime, as it is the year of the next American presidential elections. Oddly, this same editorial advises against pushing for regime change in Iran, even while claiming that that is the only real alternative to accepting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The author concludes that if the issue is simply settled with the understanding that Iran is not irrational enough to use a nuclear weapons, “the Regime will be forced to address the deep inconsistencies in how it governs its nation and its lack of rapport with the bulk of the Iranian population—who are deeply disillusioned by a political order that does not speak for them.”
This may, however, ignore dangerous characteristics of the Iranian regime that make it problematic to permit it to obtain the political and military leverage of nuclear capability, even if it never actually uses such a weapon. These characteristics were not ignored by the Washington Post on Sunday when it ran an editorial reporting that the leaked minutes of a Sudanese security meeting detailed official policies of utilizing genocide, embracing Islamic extremism, and continuing a close relationship with Iran to further the advance of political Islam.
This strategic relationship is reportedly a major part of the minutes, which also directly acknowledge Iran’s support for and arming of terrorist groups in the region. “We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf states,” says one of the Khartoum officials, Gen. Yehya Mohammed Kheir. “What is possible is a relationship that serves our mutual economic interests in terms of investment and employment.”
This, of course, raises serious questions about any Western policy that fails to restrain Iran against serious gains in regional influence or regional leverage, especially the leverage provided by access to nuclear weapons. It also casts doubt upon claims of burgeoning cooperation between Iran and the other powers at nuclear negotiations.