The Iranians would like nothing more than for the world to mistake a sideshow –
the rare visit to Tehran of International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano
and his declaration Tuesday that an agreement allowing supervisors into Iran was
at hand – for the main event.
The main event, obviously, will take place
Wednesday in Baghdad when the Iranians sit down with the P5+1 – the US, Russia,
China, Britain, France and Germany – to discuss the totality of their nuclear
Amano spoke in Tehran Monday about the logistics of IAEA supervision. That is
one thing. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday will lead the
Western powers in attempting to persuade the Iranians to end their nuclear
program. That is something different altogether. One is substance, the
Israeli officials reacted with expected skepticism to
Amano’s announcement that an agreement was in the offing on allowing IAEA
supervisors more access to Iranian sites, including the Parchin military
installation near Tehran.
They were doubtful because no agreement had yet
been signed; because even if one were signed Tehran does not exactly have a good
track record on implementing commitments to the IAEA; and because even if
implemented this did not mean the Iranians would get rid of their enriched
uranium and shelve their nuclear ambitions.
unconvinced because Amano’s actions in Tehran do not address the heart of the
matter. The Iranians can grant the supervisors access and still keep
their stockpiles of enriched uranium, enrich still more uranium and keep the
underground facility at Qom operational. In other words, an agreement with the
IAEA does not mean Tehran has altered its nuclear program one iota.
addition, Israeli officials are skeptical because they know the Iranians, and
they believe they know what the Iranians are after. The sense is that Iran is
going to Baghdad with three goals in mind: gaining time, gaining legitimacy to
continue at least part of their nuclear program and probing the possibility of
getting the world to soften the sanctions that are biting the country very
Demonstrating flexibility regarding IAEA inspectors will, the
Iranians hope, create the impression they are changing their position, without
really having to change much on the ground.
Part of this is also tailored
for domestic consumption. With the Iranian rial today worth some 60 to 70
percent less than at the start of 2011, these moves are also aimed at showing
the Iranian people – who are feeling the effects of the sanctions – that the
government is taking some steps to relieve the situation.
From an Israeli
point of view, while an Iranian agreement to let IAEA inspectors check various
sites could connect in the long run with efforts to get them to stop their
nuclear development, right now the two issues are completely different. There is
the IAEA versus Iran, and then there is the P5+1 versus Iran.
Iranians want to conflate the two. Israel wants to ensure that does not happen,
and that the world keeps its eye on the ball – ensuring Tehran does not get a
nuclear bomb – rather than rejoicing because the ayatollahs agree to some
supervision of their known nuclear sites.
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