Teheran's arms control ploy

The only surprising and hence newsworthy aspect of the promise was that the regime made the gesture immediately after the G-8 summit.

Ahmadinejad shouts 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad shouts 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
When the Iranian regime wishes to take advantage of cravings of the West to show diplomatic progress, it simply states that it plans to table a package of arms control proposals An Al Jazeera producer called and in an excited voice stated that the Iranian foreign minister has just promised to offer a new package of proposals to the international community; as a result, she wanted me to be interviewed as soon as possible on the main news show. Agreeing, I casually mentioned there was little news behind the offer: It had been made several times in the past, and is likely to be offered again many times in the future. The producer asked what I thought would be in the package, and I replied that it would make no explicit references to Iran's nuclear file; rather the package would consist of security guarantees against American-inspired regime change, "terrorism" in the form of enlisting international cooperation to suppress the main Iranian opposition groups, illegal narcotics, organized crime and illegal migrants. Teheran dangles nuclear cooperation before the international community to obtain a grand bargain, which would include destroying its main opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, based in Iraq with an extensive support network in Iran. The only surprising and hence newsworthy aspect of the promise was that the regime made the gesture immediately after the G-8 summit. The gesture falsely implied that Teheran was caving in to the pressure of the summit statement, which ramped up the rhetoric against Iran. When the Iranian regime wishes to take advantage of cravings of the West to show diplomatic progress that buys time for uranium enrichment, changes the subject and/or demonstrates moderation, it simply states that it plans to table a package of arms control proposals. The offer plays the game of "proposal-counterproposal," which buys time to enrich uranium, grabs the headlines from such messy topics as its assassination of Neda Agha Soltan and her compatriots, and appears to elevate the so-called "moderates" in the clerical-military ruling elite vis-à-vis the "hard-liners." ON JULY 11, 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported, "Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Teheran had begun work on new proposals that will be put forward as a basis of discussion with the West, according to state media. He didn't detail the proposals, nor did he say whether any part of the package would deal specifically with Iran's nuclear program." The reporter interpreted this not as a ploy to buy time, change the subject or give the false appearance that moderates were on the ascendancy, but as "a tentative signal that Teheran may be willing to start rebuilding relations after weeks of drubbing the US, Britain and other Western powers for alleged complicity in election unrest." Rather, such empty offers are an effective distraction from unrest and are designed to give the regime an air of legitimacy through negotiation with the international community. But on June 14, 2008, the same Foreign Minister Mottaki said he would offer to the visiting European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana a "comprehensive" negotiation package on security, terrorism, narcotics, organized crime and illegal migrants. In the subsequent Geneva meeting between Iran and the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), talks deteriorated over the suspension of uranium enrichment; the P5+1 insisted on cessation, but Iran refused. In the year's time since this hint of a "comprehensive" offer, the Iranian regime has succeeded in expanding its stocks of enriched uranium and consolidating Revolutionary Guards control of the Iranian political system. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also got in on the game of using arms control rhetoric as a ploy. On April 15, during the presidential election campaign, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported that he had stated Iran would offer a new proposal package for nuclear talks. And Bloomberg reported on April 26 that his government was preparing to offer the US and European nations an updated version of a one-year-old proposal for talks about its nuclear program. "We are reconsidering our proposed package," Ahmadinejad said in an interview on American ABC television. Such "reconsideration" came as Ahmadinejad was facing pressure from election rival Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who criticized Ahmadinejad's hard-line stance on the nuclear program. Claiming that an Iranian proposal to the US was in the offing was a gambit to give the appearance of moderation, both domestically and abroad, while continuing apace with uranium enrichment. On April 24, The Jerusalem Post printed an AP wire service quote of Mottaki, "We do believe that this new proposed package would be a very good base for mutual cooperation on the international level." Finally, Mottaki said on May 13 that Iran was preparing a package of proposals for the P5+1 on the regime's nuclear activities and promised to deliver it as soon as it was finalized. Leading up to Mottaki's May 13 statement, the Iranian regime began testing more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at a pilot plant within the Natanz enrichment complex: The IAEA reports, "Between 15 January 2009 and 23 May 2009, a total of approximately 54 kg of UF6 were fed into the 10-machine IR-3 cascade, the 10-machine IR-2 cascade and single IR-1, IR-2, IR-2 modified, IR-3 and IR-4 centrifuges at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP)." The Iranian regime likely judged that the most effective method of buying time to enrich uranium is to enter a vague and drawn out proposal-counterproposal cycle with the P5+1. As long as Teheran appears somewhat engaged on the Obama initiative, especially the letter conveyed from US President Barack Obama to Ahmadinejad following the US inauguration, the regime can delay Western military action against its nuclear infrastructure. The P5+1 should be prepared for Teheran to use the promise of negotiations to buy time, distract from unrest and give the appearance of moderation and as such should give engagement a short leash. Toward this end, President Obama should keep to his September deadline, by which he expects the Iranian regime to show progress on halting its nuclear weapons program or face crippling international sanctions and/or Israeli military strikes. The writer is president of the Iran Policy Committee; he was a member of the US National Security Council staff and personal representative of the secretary of defense in the Reagan-Bush administration. He taught six times at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His latest book is President Obama and Iraq: Toward a Responsible Troop Drawdown.