Parlour Games: ElBaradei 'Disarming Iran'?
In the Financial Times, Ray Takeyh and Joseph Cirincione make quite the amusing claim today: ElBaradei is quietly managing to disarm Iran.
It is a popular parlour game in Washington's corridors of power and European chancelleries to deride Mohamed ElBaradei as a quixotic bureaucrat determined to subvert the western strategy of restraining Iran's nuclear programme. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency report suggesting progress has been made by Iran is quietly disparaged by the Bush administration as another clean pass for the rash theocracy. The point that Mr ElBaradei's critics miss is that he is judiciously achieving the goals that they seemingly desire - the disarmament of the Islamic Republic.
The IAEA process, particularly the adoption last year of a "work plan" to investigate suspect activities, has been criticised by many Americans. The latest report shows, however, that process is working. The investigation and inspections - even the limited ones the IAEA is currently able to conduct - have, in effect, shut down direct weapons work and resolved many of the outstanding historical questions.
Oh really? One would think, after making such a bold statement, that Takeyh and Cirincione would have no trouble then spelling out specifically what "direct weapons work" ElBaradei and the IAEA have "shut down" in Iran. But they do not and leave the assertion hanging mid-air. They also dismiss as seemingly trivial the IAEA report's questions regarding "administrative interconnections" among Iran's enrichment, warhead and missile design programs.
What they go on to explain is how ElBaradei accepted Iran's explanations about such things as the HEU contamination on its centrifuges - an explanation that is certainly correct - while also accepting other explanations that are not so clearly obvious. But equally telling in ElBaradei's acceptance of the Iranian explanations is the statement used after each one: that the IAEA still seeks to verify the veracity of the Iranian explanations. The IAEA report states on each question the IAEA accepted as follows:
The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage. However, the Agency continues, in accordance with its procedures and practices, to seek corroboration of its findings and to verify this issue as part of its verification of the completeness of Iran’s declarations.
This is not an insignificant caveat. And it is far from a 'final answer,' though Iran says that it has given theirs. It sounds a lot more like 'trust but verify.'
At any rate, Takeyh and Cirincione continue.
Mr ElBaradei has disproved the notion that Iran's nuclear strategy is immutable. Despite its apparent solidarity, there are divisions within the theocratic regime on the urgency of the nuclear programme. It is true that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad and his militant allies' calculations are susceptible to neither offers of incentives nor threats of force. However, for the more tempered members of the ruling elite, the nuclear issue is considered within the context of international relations. Indeed, the fact that Iran has suspended the weapon design component of its programme since 2003 and is largely complying with the IAEA "work plan" reflects the propensity of the state to adhere to certain limits.
While there are indeed divisions within segments of the regime, let's not get carried away and credit Mohamed ElBaradei or the IAEA for exploiting them. ElBaradei knows what the Iranians want him to know. Just for kicks, let's bear in mind that the IAEA has no enforcement mechanism and that, as a result, Iran continues its enrichment activities unhindered - a.) In defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, b.) Undeterred by resultant sanctions, and c.) Unimpeded by the 'watchful eye' of Mohamed ElBaradei and the IAEA.
Let's go back to the IAEA's own report here. Iran - again under UN Security Council demand to halt enrichment activities - is implementing an advanced P-2 centrifuge design cascade that will ultimately speed its enrichment cycle as much as four-fold from the old P-1 design.
At the end of January 2008, the single P-1 machine and the 10- and 20-machine P-1 cascades were dismantled and the space was used for the new IR-2 machines. All activities took place under Agency containment and surveillance. [Emphasis added.]
• The UNSC has sanctioned Iran and ordered it to halt its enrichment activities.
• Iran ignores and dismisses the UNSC demand and continues its enrichment program.
• Significant Iranian enrichment advances and milestones take place as the IAEA simply watches on.
Oh, and let's not forget. . .
• Two respected individuals, Ray Takeyh and Joseph Cirincione, proclaim "It is the much maligned Mr ElBaradei that has paved the way for success."
For whom? How does that make any sense?
Count me out of that cocktail party, because I beg to differ.