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Obama's Dilemma on Nuclear Iran

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Although post election turmoil has been dominating the news coming out of Iran, what is important for this White House, as in the previous one, is not the cry for democracy but the churning of centrifuges, spinning at close to the speed of sound in the underground Hall A ,of Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP). According to the latest confirmed report by nuclear inspectors, 7000 centrifuges have been installed, and progress is being made to raise the total to 9000 centrifuges or 3 modules (i.e., units A24, A26, and A28) by late fall.

Iran's mastery of managing and expanding IR1 type centrifuges, which are copies of the A. Q. Khan P1 design, is recognized by several international experts, including Israelis. Logically, the best way forward in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state is to simmer down threatening remarks by the White House and find a way to reach an agreement that will abide by the governing international agreements that both Iran and US have agreed to follow. Unfortunately, the unbearable pressure from Israel's strong lobby groups and a growing list of senators and congress representatives that get their marching orders from these groups, have made any sensible approach to dealing with Iran's peaceful nuclear program close to impossible.

The Obama team's new phrase in referring to Iran's nuclear program is: "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapon capability," though this disagrees with the US intelligence community's assessment of 2007, as well as international inspectors' evaluations since 2003. Major players in the US congress continue their dissemination of misinformation to the general public in concert with key op-ed writers and reporters from major newspapers and networks by referring to Iran's peaceful nuclear program as a 'nuclear weapon's program'. When all corners of the US government and major news outlets continue with propagating these false assertions, it is not hard to understand why Iran has been unable to respond to the US offer for negotiation. Of course, the internal turmoil in Iran has made any progress difficult too.

Clinton's recent comments on Iran really demonstrates that the foreign policy of Obama's team has not changed much from Bush years, they just plan to lure more countries to their side against Iran by proposing to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions. If the substance of these discussions with Iran does not recognize Iran's legitimate right to continue to enrich uranium at the reactor grade level, which is much lower purity than the bomb grade, then the outcome will be even more disastrous than the past eight years.
Netanyahu's return as the prime minister of Israel has exasperated US efforts to normalize relationships with Iran. He has promised his constituents that he will use all possible options to prevent Iran from enriching uranium. Given the distance between Israel and Iran and all the complications of running such a mission, it is guaranteed that the US will be involved at some point. Such an attack will violate international laws for nuclear non-proliferation as well the Security Council Charter, resulting in a regional geopolitical and economic instability and beyond.

Publicly it has not been revealed exactly what the P5+1 have offered to Iran for the renewal of the nuclear negotiations. If this is going to be yet another proposal to suspend enrichment indefinitely in order for Iran to obtain economic cooperation or even security guarantees from the US, then the outcome will be the same; it will be rightfully rejected by Iran. If the proposal is to cut back the total number of centrifuges to the early 2006 time frame where only 164 centrifuges were functioning, it would be hard to imagine Iranians accepting such a setback after declaring industrial level enrichment accomplishment with 3000 centrifuges last year.

It has been mentioned that the negotiation could proceed on the freeze-for-freeze proposal, originated by El Baradei. This proposal requires Iran for a fixed period of time to stop adding new centrifuges, and only operate the existing ones. In return, P5+1 will not force another illegal sanction through the Security Council. In recent months, Iranian officials have rejected any form of suspension, including a pause in new centrifuge installations. Moreover, they have insisted in illegality of any additional sanctions and demanded Iran's dossier to be declared normal as far as agreed safeguard with the nuclear agency is concerned.

In order to break this logjam both sides, US and Iran, need to make some tough decisions that they have not entertained in the past, otherwise the deadline of having any agreement before G20 meeting in September will pass, resulting in yet another disastrous outcome in the US-Iran relationship.
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From the US side, Obama has to follow-up on Kerry's recent opinion piece regarding the legitimate right of Iran to enrich uranium. As a key member of non-proliferation treaty, Obama has to recognize Iran's right under this treaty to continue peaceful enrichment activity. The word enrichment has to be clear and to the point without referring to any abstract phrases as peaceful nuclear energy. He has to agree to immediately eliminate sanctions related to civilian aircraft parts and new planes; this inhumane decision by US has resulted in the death of 100's of innocent Iranian citizens. Finally, he needs to move towards normalization of relationships with Iran with a well-planned timeline at the diplomatic level starting this year.

From the Iranian side; it is time for the leadership to find a face-saving scenario for Obama to engage with Iran. Although the safeguard agreement with the nuclear agency does not require Iran to consider the freeze-for-freeze, it makes sense for Iran to consider it for a period of time, say three months. Iran is close to finishing the third module in Natanz and it is a good time to pause. During this period, negotiations should be focused on how to increase confidence-building measures so that any potential military deviation of the Natanz FEP is prevented.

There are many left-over issues such as Additional Protocol for intrusive inspections of non-declared sites that have to be ironed out after US and Iran pass the initial point of engagement. These are very difficult issues that are at the core of mistrust between the two countries. It is a delicate and unstable situation, that if not handled with care could result in yet another war between US and a Muslim country before Obama's term is up.

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http://www.eng.uci.edu/user/16
Nader Bagherzadeh is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. He regularly writes and lectures on the broad aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

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