It is clear from recent articles in the Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times [1, 2] that the heated discussion during the five hours of the July 19th Geneva conference between Iran and P5+1 may have had a lot to do with the ultimate dismantling of the enrichment and heavy water facilities after a specified period of suspension and the so called freeze-for-freeze. Freeze–for-freeze was an idea originally proposed by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Elbaradei, who demanded that Iran not install any new centrifuge while the existing ones are still spinning. In return, the P5+1 countries would not seek new sanctions as long as the negotiations would continue.
Asking for the dismantling of Iran’s sensitive nuclear facilities has always been the US position. This is exactly what the influential senator Richard Lugar of Indiana stated almost two years ago: “The US final goal is not suspension, but dismantling of Iranian enrichment facilities at Natanz.”
Since April 2006, technologically Iran has crossed the enrichment know how red-line, although with some difficulty at the beginning. The latest IAEA report revealed that 3000 centrifuges cascaded in groups of 164 are properly functioning and are producing low enriched uranium for reactor fuel, not weapons grade fuel as some US media reports may have lead the public to believe.
Judging from published Israeli leaders’ remarks, there should be no doubt that Israel’s long term objective is not confidence building and temporary suspensions of Iran’s enrichment facilities. Instead, her goal is the full termination and dismantling of all the enrichment equipment. This is probably one of the reasons why the US has not been in favor of the so called “Pickering Proposal” for an indigenous multinational, heavily inspected, enrichment plant in Iran. The Pickering Proposal should be considered the most sensible and balanced way out of the current impasse. The US has absolutely no legal grounds to demand from Iran to discard her rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
It seems that Iran may have been taken off guard with this long term proposal that included incentives and security guarantees, but simultaneously demanded that Iran to agree to dismantle some of its sensitive nuclear facilities after a specified period of freeze-for-freeze and enrichment suspension. There were reports that Iran was ready to proceed with freeze-for-freeze and possibly a short (6 months) suspension of enrichment activities.
Iran lost billions of dollars because of current United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions and because of the US persuading other countries not to invest in Iran or purchasing oil from the gigantic gas and oil fields of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea area. Under these conditions, it would be hard to imagine that Iran would agree with such a proposal. Not to mention, gas transit pipelines that were diverted through other countries, because of the US pressure, even if they were more economical to pass through Iran’s territory. For instance, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which may be one of the reasons that Russia attacked Georgia, is indicative of US policies to circumvent Iran and Russia’s involvement for future oil and gas projects in the Caspian Sea region.
Facts on the ground are different from two years ago: it would be impractical to convince Iranian leaders to abandon enrichment activities and rely on an agreement with a lame duck US government. They have invested too much of their political capital and there is no guarantee that the next US president will honor any agreement reached with the current US administration. Moreover, the US track record of non-involvement in Iran’s affair, as spelled out by the 1981 Algier’s Accords, is not stellar. Recently, Sy Hersh reported that Bush approved $400 million in 2007 to fund covert operations against Iran .
The threat of yet another set of UNSC sanctions will work against forces of moderation in Iran that have been getting more media coverage in recent months. With the possible change of leadership in Israel towards a more hawkish Likud party, it is conceivable that the new government of Israel will expect a US involvement in an attack on yet another Moslem country. Undoubtedly, if US forces were to initiate an attack on Iran, the ensuing collateral damages, whether they be financial or human, will be devastating for all sides, including Israel. One major exception could be Russia that would enjoy a rise in the price of gas and oil due to the political instability of the Persian Gulf, not to mention additional sources of income in the selling of Russian-made weapons that would be destroyed if Iran retaliates.