Sunday, October 02, 2005

Security Implications for Iran's Nuclear Program


The United States is endorsing the European Union diplomacy approach to resolving the most recent row over Iran's nuclear program, in a calculated measure to exhaust all options available in settling the dispute. The lack of substantiated human intelligence regarding the development program and the previous failures in Iraq has forced the US government to support the diplomatic mission while it amasses intelligence. Upcoming presidential elections will slow the pace of diplomacy and allow Iran time to continue their development program.


The United States position is that possession of a fuel processing cycle indicates intent to develop weapons capability. However, the US intelligence community has no clear evidence proving that Iran has nuclear weapons capability. An intelligence source commented, "All available data indicates that Tehran was adamant at completing the fuel cycle system and proceeding at a later stage to processing fuel." Solid information is difficult to obtain for western intelligence services. There continues to be a drought of human intelligence information because it has been difficult to penetrate the Iranian nuclear shroud.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has good access to known facilities but has been unable to substantiate allegations of fuel cycle development. It appears that the mere possession of a fuel cycle adds ambiguity to Tehran's position when added to the occasionally furious statements made by hardliners in the regime. Therefore, it is accurate to conclude that Washington will not tolerate the presence of fuel cycle capability in Iran regardless of assurances made by the government. The American view is closely supported by the Israeli interpretation of events.

Iran is reported to have set up sophisticated air defenses around its nuclear facilities. US officials in February said pilot-less US drones had been sent from Iraq since last year to test the air for traces of uranium enrichment. Iran has confirmed that it is excavating deep underground tunnels to protect some nuclear facilities. Iran has also been upgrading its Shahab-3 missile, which can reach Israel and US forces in the region. Iran's armed forces have conducted high-profile military exercises since last fall with large numbers of military personnel in western Iran. There is also an investigation being conducted by Ukraine's new pro-West lawmakers regarding "smuggled" shipments of a dozen Soviet-era Kh-55 cruise missiles to Iran in 2001.

Washington seems for now to be giving peace negotiations a chance in resolving the issue via diplomacy, using the United Kingdom, France, Germany (EU-3) approach. The latest series of negotiations between Tehran and the EU-3 resulted in the Europeans offering economic incentives they were willing to extend in exchange for the Iranians' termination of their uranium enrichment program. These incentives included security guarantees, facilitating Iran's entry into the World Trade Organization, and supplying parts and equipment that will be used to support the national civil aviation industry. The latest round saw the United States assume a more active role in the negotiations. However, most experts and analysts regard this US step as symbolic more than a serious step towards resolution.

A well-informed Iranian official cast doubt in the ability of any Iranian leader to make concessions on the nuclear issue during an election year. Iranian presidential elections are due in early summer 2005. The nuclear issue has become a hot topic on Iranian streets and the leadership in Tehran has used this momentum to rouse nationalist feelings. Therefore, it will be difficult for candidates to reduce rhetoric and extend dialog with the West, which may be interpreted by hardliners as concessions and a sign of weakness.

Inegma:The active European Union diplomacy will likely be an effort that will neither satisfy Iran nor the United States. Many regional and international observers share the view that Iran sees its nuclear capabilities as an essential mechanism for ensuring continuity of government and state survival. The Iranians might continue to negotiate while building their development facilities. The talks will most likely stall as the presidential election nears. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is expected to be elected and form a new government. The United States position is that nuclear weapons possessed by Iran threaten regional stability and national security interests. The nuclear issue will probably continue to escalate as neither side is willing to compromise its views. IAEA inspection demands will increase the difficulty that Iran faces in building a fuel cycle system. It is not clear how much time the US has decided to give the EU-3 diplomacy process to achieve an acceptable resolution. As far as Washington is concerned, the military approach remains a possible last resort.


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