Iran: Nuclear Compliance by Defiance

I’d be remiss not to point out this Arms Control Wonk post regarding Iran’s recent declaration that it would build 10 new enrichment facilities. In a nutshell, Joshua Pollack wonders whether the sites might not end up corresponding to the intelligence files the IAEA already has on other hidden sites., what he calls “compliance in defiance”:

One way to see it, then, is that the Iranian side has seized theopportunity to get tough by coming clean, or to come clean by gettingtough. In the two-level gameof international diplomacy and Iranian domestic politics, this sort ofJanus-faced response may be as close to a win-win outcome as everhappens.

After then parsing some of the language of the CIA’s 2007 Iran NIE, Pollack explains why:

Viewed in this light, Iran’s “defiant” disclosure might be avoluntary foreclosure of its ability — probably already compromised –to use a network of covert sites to build the Bomb. If that’s so, thenintelligence has secured some of the margin of security thatnegotiations seemingly could not.

Unfortunately, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just took the defiance component a step further, declaring that Iran would enrich its 3 percent uranium to the 20 percent level needed for its medical reactor.

As the NY Times article makes clear, this is still in fuzzy pastel-red territory in terms of weaponization use. But those who insist on taking at face value the strictly peaceful ends of Iran’s nuclear program should consider this: Not only does Iran not have any demonstrable use for its 3 percent uranium, it does not have the technological capacity to transform the 20 percent stuff into the fuel rods actually needed for the medical reactor.

As an IAEA diplomat quoted in the Times piece says, “They’re almost asking to be attacked.”

And indeed, Marvin Weinbaum argued in a WPR briefing back in July (sub. req.) that the Iranian leadership could very well perceive some benefits from a military attack. That’s something that those likely to start beating on the war drums in response to the latest provocation should consider: By attacking Iran, we’d very possibly be giving them Tehran its strategic wish.

Update: In any event, Iran seems to be ramping up its arms smuggling efforts, both for its own Quds Force, as well as for Hezbollah and Hamas. So whatever is going on in terms of negotiations is being accompanied by a pretty high-stakes psy ops game of chicken on both sides.