Analysis: Iran’s nuclear strategy will be sailing full steam ahead, with Russia as facilitator

Expert tells 'Post' that the way the Syrian issue is playing out is likely leaving the Iranians feeling "somewhat advantaged.”

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September 12, 2013 04:46
3 minute read.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the opening ceremony ahead of National Army Day.

Iran military parade 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Iran is probably rethinking its strategy.

The Islamic Republic observed how Syria, with Russia’s assistance, has wiggled out from what was to be limited US strikes not meant to topple the regime. Iran is famous for its diplomatic prowess – its ability to drag out negotiations with the West over its nuclear program – knowing exactly when to push on the peddle and when to ease up in its pursuit to the bomb.

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So the ayatollah’s will take note at how effectively Syria was able to split the international community over the planned attack and how uneasy people in the West are to military interventions in the Middle East.

However, the threat of a unilateral attack by the US or Israel still hangs in the air, so Iran may try to proceed carefully as the charm offensive by newly elected President Hassan Rouhani gets into full gear.

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council told The Jerusalem Post that “Rouhani is already taking some credit for the Russian proposal at home, using it to show that his diplomacy pays greater dividends than Ahmadinejad’s theatrics".

“This can win him more maneuverability on the nuclear issue,” he said, adding that if the Syria situation calms down, it would likely “make Tehran feel strengthened.”

US Ambassador Joseph Macmanus said on Wednesday that Iran had further expanded its uranium enrichment capacity by continuing to install both advanced and first-generation centrifuges, calling these steps “concerning escalations of an already prohibited activity.”

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Iran is also making further progress in the construction of a reactor, Arak, that can yield plutonium for bombs, including putting the reactor vessel in place and beginning to make fuel, Macmanus said. “All of these are troubling developments.”

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior advisor on Iran at the US State Department told the Post that he suspects that the way the Syrian issue is playing out is likely leaving “the Iranians feeling somewhat advantaged.”

“The international community’s reticence to use force and its referral of the matter to the cumbersome UN process offer them an opportunity to relax a bit,” he said.

Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and the director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the INSS, stated to the Post that Iran is paying close attention to “how deep the divide is between the US and Russia” and how Europe essentially removed itself as a real player in this drama.

Even though there are differences between the Syrian issue – which is based on chemical weapons – and the Iranian nuclear file, “this is a kind of test case for the international community in facing serious noncompliance in the WMD realm,” she said.

Landau points out that there are positive and negative implications that may be drawn from the outcome of the Syrian situation. The good news is that Iran, Russia and Syria saw the US threat to use force as real despite some wavering by US President Barack Obama over the past weeks.

It was this threat, she noted, that caused Russia and Syria to come up with this alternate proposal thus demonstrating that the US is able to modify behavior of rogue regimes if it chooses to do so.

Furthermore, the success of the Russian proposal could result in “the US and Russia moving closer together meaning Iran cannot count on Russia and the US to be on opposite sides regarding its ongoing nuclear progress.”

“On the negative side, we have yet to see how this plays out, and what Obama does if the Russian proposal does not materialize into an effective plan,” she said.

If this is the case, then the ball will be back in Obama’s court and “the question of US action will again be at the forefront.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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