The confidential diplomatic package backed by Washington and formally presented to Iran on Tuesday leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil, U.S. and European officials said.In fact, we've gone farther than I would have expected, offering the Iranians permission to minimally enrich uranium within their borders in order to secure their fuel cycle. This deal is more liberal than I'm comfortable with, truthfully, since the knowledge gained from that low level enrichment process can be applied to clandestine research in weapons-grade enrichment.
That concession, along with a promise of U.S. assistance for an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, is conditioned on Tehran suspending its current nuclear work until the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency determines with confidence that the program is peaceful. U.S. officials said Iran would also need to satisfy the U.N. Security Council that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, a benchmark that White House officials believe could take years, if not decades, to achieve.
But the Bush administration and its European allies have withdrawn their demand that Iran abandon any hope of enriching uranium for nuclear power, according to several European and U.S. officials with knowledge of the offer. The new position, which has not been acknowledged publicly by the White House, differs significantly from the Bush administration's stated determination to prevent Iran from mastering technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
"We are basically now saying that over the long haul, if they restore confidence, that this Iranian regime can have enrichment at home," said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But they have to answer every concern given all that points to a secret weapons program."
And that raises an interesting point. The technological "point of no return" or "point of inevitability" was constantly invoked by the Bush Administration, and to a certain extent they were right. Knowledge is a difficult thing to come by, and the technological knowledge to build a bomb proceeds the actual bomb by quite a long time. Hell, everyone *knows* how to build a bomb if you've got the enriched material already - take two subcritical masses that when added together are a supercritical mass, and combine them as quickly as possible while simultaneously not standing anywhere nearby. Easy. But sophistication with enrichment and handling of materials is significant, and the deal we're presenting will allow them to develop that to a potentially problematic level.
So who's been moderating the Administration's positions so heavily? Who's been doing our negotiating? Because this marks the second nuclear deal where we've played a strong hand as if it were a weak one - nearly giving away the farm in the process. First there was India, where we gave them everything they wanted (military reactors, namely) in exchange for what, exactly? Help in the war on terror? Decrease petroleum demand from India? Please. And now we've given the Iranians a full fuel cycle.
Speaking privately, a senior Iranian official said that the offer appeared to have much worthy of consideration.Oy. As much as I think a diplomatic solution is of paramount importance, this is not exactly the negotiating posture I would have liked to see.
European and American diplomats expressed relief.
"Our first aim was already achieved because they didn't reject" the offer, one European diplomat said.
The Iranians should reply by the G8 meeting - mid July. Of course, that means they wont... but they will soon enough.