On September 6, the International Atomic Energy Agency released its latest report on Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Safeguards Agreement, as well as the various Security Council resolutions which demand Iran make transparent her nuclear program. The conclusion of the report, the latest in a string of such the Agency has released over the past few years, is frustrating to the Agency and the United Nations to say the least. While acknowledging “the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran,” the report declares flatly that “Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The report also highlights that following public statements by high level Iranian officials of the intent to even further augment their national nuclear capability, the nuclear watchdog asked for clarification, and even initial design documents that would be needed for such a build up. Quite dismissively, Iranian officials either promised these documents in “due time,” or refused altogether, claiming that the requests fall outside of their commitments under the Safeguards agreement. And even more provocatively, Iran has refused since 2008 to even discuss concerns by the Agency’s Director General of “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program, claiming the accusations to be baseless.
Tehran’s defiance comes in the face of yet more sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council in June. A recent article posted on The Economist.com posited that the recent transfer of fuel from Russia to Iran’s Busheur Nuclear Power Plant was something of a vindication for Iran’s defiance, having finally completed a domestic nuclear power capability (the plant actually goes on line later this year). And this despite the fact that the manner that Iran is getting fuel for the plant is actually in a manner more or less acceptable to the West. But this mentality goes to highlight the dangerous game that Iran has been playing since 2003.
The Council on Foreign Relations published an interview on September 8 with their Nuclear Security Fellow, Matthew Fuhrmann, who suggested that while much of Iran’s cat and mouse behavior may be due to a secretive effort to develop nuclear weapons, there is nothing definitive proving this. Mr. Fuhrmann also cautioned that the West (in particular Israel) would need to seriously consider the ramifications of potential military action against Iran. (See Will Israel Strike Iran). Most would probably agree with this recommendation. Interestingly, however, he also suggests that the West rethink what a world with a nuclear Iran would really look like. Current assessments assert that a nuclear Iran would lead to a stepped up arms race in the Middle East, as well as a more aggressive Iran and a more destabilized region Mr. Fuhrmann states that similar claims were made of China in the 1950s and 1960s, and we have yet to see such fallout from a nuclear China.
Mr. Fuhrmann’s comparison of Iran’s aspirations with China are interesting and certainly worth consideration. However, the analogy has serious flaws. Iran, without nuclear weapons, has already made its hostility towards Israel a centerpiece of her foreign policy. It’s hard to imagine that a theocratic state with a messianic showboat like President Ahmadinejad would become more stable with the introduction of a nuclear strike capability.
But even given a possibility that Mr. Fuhrmann could be on to something with this novel idea, it seems unlikely that Israel would be willing to wait to see this blossom. Israel would likely stay fixated on the first part of Mr. Fuhrmann’s interview, the part that references recent “evidence suggesting that Iran was doing research and development on putting a nuclear payload on a missile.”
In the end, Iran remains culpable of fomenting this uncertainly. While the wisdom of a military strike on Iran is highly questionable, the unanswered questions, a history of deception, and the provocative dodging and public posturing of the government in Tehran continue to increase the chances of conflict (most likely with Israel). The IAEA is rightfully pressing the Iranian government to fully comply with her obligations. Unless Iran decides to come clean and work with the international community, the potential for conflict is likely to rise significantly over the next year.
Nuclear Watchdog Says Iran Boosts Nuclear Work (Reuters) 6 Sept 2010
Game resumed Iran pockets Bushehr and plays on, The Economist.com, 26 Aug 2010
IAEA Report: Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 6 Sep 2010
A Cautionary Note on Iran, Interview with Matthew Fuhrmann, Counsel on Foreign Relations Nuclear Security Fellow by CFR.org Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman, Council on Foreign Relations, 8 Sep 2010