Sunday, January 09, 2005

Iran Gives in on Parchin

In what will surely be touted as a positive development, Iran has agreed to open up the military base at Parchin to IAEA inspection. While not required to allow access to military bases under the NPT, the Iranians have apparently decided that it is in their best interest to do so.
The decision to open the military plant suggests that Iran has chosen to follow a very different strategy than the one pursued by North Korea, which threw out international inspectors two years ago and has not allowed them to return.

Iran, in contrast, has slowly opened a number of facilities, but only when forced to do so because of disclosures by exile groups. The opening of those sites has required Tehran to acknowledge that it hid much of its program for 18 years.

Iranian officials apparently decided that the risk of further disclosures, if there are any, was less than that of seeming to defy the international inspectors.

"The Iranians are playing a shrewd game of giving international opinion just enough to keep the wolves at bay," said Ashton B. Carter, co-director of the Preventive Defense Project, a study group at Harvard and Stanford Universities, and a former assistant secretary of defense during the Clinton administration. "At least they are showing a sensitivity to the perception they create, even though I don't believe that instinct will be enough to turn around Iran's nuclear ambitions."

Iran's agreement to allow inspection, the energy agency notes, does not guarantee that inspectors will be permitted into all the corners of the military base where they want to go.

American officials said they believed the inspectors would be permitted to see any location where there was no evidence of current nuclear work, or where such evidence had been removed.

"They are great at removing soil," said one American nuclear expert with long experience dealing with the Iranian program. "They have mastered the art of cat-and-mouse when it comes to inspections."

Still, Iran's agreement to allow access to the military base is something of a victory - perhaps temporary, perhaps not - for the agency. Its director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, argued in an interview last month that applying slow, constant pressure on Iran would yield more results than immediately taking the country to the United Nations Security Council for sanctions, the path the Bush administration has advocated.

This about sums the whole situation up. Iran's decision is part of a strategic process of refuse then reveal. Given that it is widely thought that they are approaching breakout status, the longer the delay the closer they are to project completion. Once armed, there is far less the world can do.

Accordingly, the IAEA sees this is a victory of process and negotiation rather than a strategy by the Iranians.