Iran Nuclear Diplomacy Fails — Again

Even the European powers have given up diplomacy with Iran, agreeing with the Bush Administration that a referral to the U.N. Security Council is appropriate.

The British, French and German foreign ministers said Thursday that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program had reached a “dead end” and the Islamic republic should be referred to the U.N. Security Council. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said later Thursday that Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told him that Tehran was interested in “serious and constructive negotiations” with the European countries over its atomic program but it favored a deadline. “He affirmed to me that they are interested in serious and constructive negotiations but within a timeframe, indicating that the last time they did it for 2 1/2 years and no result,” Annan told reporters.

As Elan Journo, a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, explains, this failure was a foregone conclusion.

European diplomats, who courted Iran in an attempt to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program, regret that “diplomacy” did not dissuade Iran from its plans. But this failure was foreseeable.

Europe’s diplomatic effort was touted as a reasonable way to settle the dispute over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program without any losers. By enticing Iran to the negotiating table, we were told, the West can avoid a military confrontation, while Iran gains “economic incentives” that can help build its economy. But the negotiations–backed also by the Bush administration–only strengthened Iran and turned it into a greater menace.

The proposed deal–which was said to include the sale of civilian aircraft and membership for Iran in the World Trade Organization–rested on the notion that no one would put abstract goals or principles ahead of gaining a steady flow of economic loot. And so, if only we could have negotiated a deal that gave Iran a sufficiently juicy carrot, it would forgo its ambitions.

But to believe that Iran really hungers for nuclear energy (as it claims) is sheer fantasy. Possessing abundant oil and gas reserves, Iran is the second-largest oil producer in OPEC. To believe that it values prosperity at all is equally fantastic; Iran is a theocracy that systematically violates its citizens’ right to political and economic liberty.

What Iran desires is a nuclear weapon–the better to threaten and annihilate the impious in the West and in Iran’s neighborhood. Iran declares its anti-Western ambitions stridently. At an official parade in 2004, Iran flaunted a missile draped with a banner declaring that: “We will crush America under our feet.” (Its leaders, moreover, have for years repeated the demand that “Israel must be wiped off the map.”) A committed enemy of the West, Iran is the ideological wellspring of Islamic terrorism, and the “world’s most active sponsor of terrorism” (according to the U.S. government). A totalitarian regime that viciously punishes “un-Islamic” behavior among its own citizens, Iran actively exports its contempt for freedom and human life throughout the infidel world. For years it has been fomenting and underwriting savage attacks on Western and American interests, using such proxies as Hezbollah. Like several of the 9/11 hijackers before them, many senior al-Qaida leaders, fugitives of the Afghanistan war, have found refuge in Iran. And lately Iran has funneled millions of dollars, arms and ammunition to insurgents in Iraq. It’s absurd to think that by offering Iran rewards to halt its aggression, we will deflect it from its goal.

The only consequence of engaging such a vociferously hostile regime in negotiations is the whitewashing of its crimes and the granting of undeserved legitimacy. The attempt to conciliate Iran has further inflamed the boldness of Iran’s mullahs. What it has taught them is that the West lacks the intellectual self-confidence to name its enemies and deal with them accordingly. It has vindicated the mullahs’ view that their religious worldview can bring a scientific, technologically advanced West to its knees.

Quite right. A recent report from the controversial resistance group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), provides additional reason to believe that the mullahs are engaged in a nuclear weapons program.

The report, entitled “Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: 18 years of Delay, Denial and Deception” describes the history of Iran’s nuclear program and is described as “the first attempt to provide a comprehensive picture of the clerical regime’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons.†It details names of Iran’s defense-related institutions and figures involved in the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program, as well as their exact location. The paper elaborates on Iran’s efforts to achieve independence in completing the nuclear fuel cycle by obtaining or manufacturing rare nuclear-related substances and equipment.

The 35-page report also describes how Iran̢۪s mullahs have supposedly hidden key elements of its nuclear activities from the eyes of the world for years, while covertly pursuing nuclear arms by stealing scientific know-how and weapon blueprints from other countries, illegal purchasing of designs and substances, hiring of Soviet nuclear experts and using a vast network of front companies, which it lists with detailed names and addresses. It mentions Iran̢۪s possession of potential delivery devices for nuclear weapons and says more than half the country̢۪s nuclear experts are directly being used to manufacture a bomb. As of 2004, it says, there were 400 such scientists.

“In the past twenty years,†the report concludes, “Tehran has carried out specific action on all parts and segments of nuclear weapons and obtained most of it through smuggling or copying from others…one can only conclude that the regime is on the verge of producing a nuclear bomb.â€

While NCRI has an agenda and would not be reliable as a single source, their report is buttressed by both common sense (see Journo, above) and the analysis of Western intelligence agencies.

Meir Dagan, the head of Israel̢۪s overseas intelligence agency, the Mossad, said at the end of December that without drastic intervention, the Iranians could reach independence in their nuclear technology within a few months.

On January 3, the UK-based Guardian newspaper mentioned an assessment of a Western intelligence agency, dated July 2005, which appears to draw similar conclusions to those in the NCRI report.


The IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution in September 2005 urging Iran to “resolve outstanding questions†regarding its nuclear program.

The findings in the report are not incriminating, but allegations likely to set off an alarm bell, if confirmed, concern the secretive nature of the activities.

Also, nuclear physicists pointed out the following items in the report, which they said have little, if any apparent civilian usage:

̢ۢ The report said the Iranians are producing, importing and researching Polonium 210 as a bomb detonator. Polonium 210 is a scarce material. It can be used for certain civilian applications such as nuclear batteries, and the Iranians say this is the purpose of research. But according to the IAEA, this application is limited. It can be used as a primitive, but reliable, bomb trigger.

̢ۢ The report says the Iranians are carrying out secret implosion tests. Implosion is a method used to create the critical mass needed for a nuclear bomb to explode. Implosion is not used in a fuel reactor. It can be used for metal forming, although Oelrich said this has never become commercially viable.

In December, three months after the report was issued, the Director General of the IAEA Dr. Muhammad Al-Barade’i told the Jerusalem Post the agency had not found a “smoking gun†in Iran that would indicate a nuclear weapons program. He said the slow progress with Iran is due to the shoestring budget on which the agency is operating.

As we learned in the Iraq case, intelligence reports can be wrong. They’re based on best guesses and often rely on sources who have an agenda. Still, as with Iraq, the drawbacks of a Type II error are less than those of a Type I error. Though our options are extremely limited, we simply have to proceed on the assumption that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.



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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    While it’s not the usual perspective, Anthony Cordesman’s National Security in Saudi Arabia provides an excellent view of Iran’s capabilities, nuclear and conventional.

    It’s going to be a very difficult nut to crack, filled with dangers to the world economy. Iran is in a particularly strong position when it comes to its ability to shut down the world’s oil supplies.

  2. LJD says:

    Aside from questioning the intelligence about Iran’s weapons capabilities and ambitions, I think their “Death to American, Death to Israel” stance is rather telling.

    Iran wrongly believes that we are too preoccupied in other parts of the world, or we don’t have the stomach to defend ourselves. They need to remember that we already have operational weapons (which have been tested) along with the means to deliver them pretty much wherever we want.

  3. James Joyner says:

    LJD: Not much doubt about our ability to deliver rounds on target. As some of the Previous posts show, though, it’s a whole lot more complicated than that.

  4. LJD says:

    Preventing a nuclear Iran is complicated, yes. Dealing with a nuclear Iran, no.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Unfortunately, Bush’s war on Iraq has given countries such as Iran a much greater motivation to develop nuclear weapons.

    Clearly we have the ability to depose governments with conventional means, and clearly Bush is willing to use it, in at least the Iraq instance, under rather flimsy pretenses. Does it surprise anyone that a government such as Iran’s would want some insurance?

  6. McGehee says:

    Anjin-san is clearly counting on the fact he is more of an absurdity than an annoyance.

  7. Herb says:

    It’s time for the nuke sites in Iran to be hit. This time we should get the big boys out and give them a taste of what a real nuke can do to their nuke plants.