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Friday, April 10, 2015

Big Surprise.....Iran Agrees To A Treaty.

Links: A. Treaty With Iran Faces Opposition
           B. Difficulty Of Inspecting/Verifying Iran's Nuclear Research

To no one's surprise, the Obama Administration's negotiators returned home with a Treaty that was acceptable to the government of Iran.  This State Department, which has proven to be so woefully inept in the Middle East, Ukraine, South America, and everywhere else for that matter, manage to accomplish what no one in a decade has been able to do: get the Iranians to agree to a Treaty which would prohibit (through verification) the weaponizing of Iran's nuclear capabilities.  Up to this point, the Iranians have been claiming that their only interest in nuclear research is to create energy for peaceful purposes (electricity).  This type of research would be easy to monitor and verify.  But the Iranians do not want Inspectors.  Tehran argues that the United States, Russia, India and Pakistan achieved nuclear power without having "their sovereignty insulted", therefore why should Iran be made the exception?  The last few years have borne a disturbing resemblance to the games of Saddam Hussein, with a mixture of diplomacy and indignation used to propel the Iranians ever so closer to their goal.  Obviously the goal of the Iranian government is to develop a nuclear weapon not that free electricity wouldn't be a useful side benefit.  Tehran would become the first Shi'a nation to achieve this goal, and the second Muslim country after Sunni Pakistan. 

On its face, this issue appears to be all about the security of Israel.  Over the years, various different governments in Tehran have expressed the same desire, to participate in the destruction of Israel.  The most recent government has toned things down a bit, but that hasn't relaxed anyone in Tel Aviv.  But the issue goes much deeper.  Iran has bitter enemies in the Muslim world, especially in the Persian Gulf.  Once the Obama Administration announced that discussions were taking place with Iran, their Saudis immediately ratcheted up their interest in nuclear power/weapons.  The Saudis understood, just as we did, that the announcement of negotiations was nothing more than a warning that the deal was on its way.  The idea that this team of negotiators would come back empty-handed was, frankly, ignorant.  Obama needs this Treaty badly, as his opportunities to build some sense of a Legacy to his two-terms in office are dwindling.  We have Obamacare, The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and the removal of military forces from Iraq.  We are somewhat in the midst of an effort to reform the Immigration system, but I'm not clear on how things will work themselves out, so I can't add that to the Legacy just yet.  But a signed treaty with the Islamic Republic of Iran, that provides the Iranians with peaceful nuclear power and no weapons, something the United Nations was unable to do, would be a very nice platform on which to start building that Legacy.

I do not pretend to understand much about physics, and atomic energy was never my strong suit at University.  But understanding the basics of the Iranian conundrum is not difficult.  In order to produce nuclear power, enriched uranium is necessary.  Because Russia has a ten-year contract to fuel Iran’s only power reactor at Bushehr, Iran has no present need for enriched uranium to generate civilian nuclear energy.  But Iran has enriched uranium, and its stockpile is growing.  Why, you ask, would Iran want enriched uranium if their "peaceful ambitions" (i.e., the amount of enriched uranium needed for peaceful purposes) are met by a contract signed with Russia?  The reality is, nuclear weapons require uranium that has been enriched at a higher grade that what Russia is contracted to deliver.  Now here is where things get complicated.  Please, please hang with me, folks.  You will be glad you did.  Lets talk about centrifuges.

Centrifuge:  A machine with a rapidly rotating container that applies centrifugal force to it's contents, typically to separate fluids of different densities.  After uranium has been mined, it is processed to separate the pure uranium from the ore, which results in uranium oxide.  Uranium oxide contains two types of uranium: U-235 and U-238. U-235 is what you need if you want to make a bomb or fuel a nuclear power plant. But the uranium oxide from the mine is about 99 percent U-238. So you need to somehow separate the U-235 from the U-238 and increase the amount of U-235. The process of concentrating the U-235 is called enrichment.  Having the capability (and the centrifuges) to enrich uranium is the key to creating a nuclear weapon.  The United Nations repeatedly expressed to Iran that a demonstrably peaceful plant would be no problem, but the Iranians have other plans.  if Iran were not interested in nuclear weapons, then this issue would be complete. 

The plant is almost operational, and the contract with the Russians is in place (and unnecessary, as Iran already has enriched uranium).  The questions remain: will the plant come on-line with some form of Inspections Protocol in place, and will the existing sanctions continue?  Although we have yet to examine even the slightest detail (why not?), the issue of inspections must be addressed because, frankly speaking, it is the most important.  No doubt the treaty includes an Inspections Protocol, but does it contain the necessary elements to guarantee that Iran is not making use of higher grade uranium? Basically, the treaty must address a handful of unavoidable issues:

1) Who is responsible for the Inspections Protocol?  Is it an international organization?
2) Does the protocol include on-site inspections or rely on instrumental data collection?
3) Who will measure the total amount of uranium utilized and the energy produced?
4) Since Iran has no need for the centrifuges, will they be destroyed, or delivered to an outside agency for destruction?
5) If the treaty is violated, what options have been included that will allow for the immediate cessation of all unauthorized activity?

From the moment of the initial announcement, my concern has been with the Inspections issue.  We went through the same bullshit with Iraq; in fact, in the last few years, Iran has been using some of the same excuses and explanations that Hans Blix must have known by heart.  And to think that Saddam Hussein was only hiding his chemical and biological weapons research.  At the end of the day, the person with something to hide is the one who is most likely to delay, and obfuscate, and distract.  When I have the opportunity to review the treaty in detail, I hope that I'm wrong, and that the Inspections Regime is up-to-par.  This would mean that Iran does not get to choose the Inspectors (sorry, Russia and China).  And its imperative that the Iranians agree to some mechanism that will allow for an international agency to have the ability to shut down whatever activity is taking place, that violates the treaty.

Excuse my cynicism, but what will probably occur, is that the Treaty will be full of loopholes, and before long, the Iranians will be in possession of at least one nuclear weapon (you don't normally make just one; I assume the first batch will include at least two).  And let's face it, folks, this is the ultimate "fait accompli".  Its tricky issuing orders to a country with a nuclear weapon.  And then the dominoes appear, as Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., for defensive purposes only, offer to spend whatever it takes so they can have a few bombs as well.  The Sunni are convinced that the Shi'a can't be trusted with that kind of power, therefore, at least for deterrence sake, a Sunni bomb is needed (Pakistan doesn't count; there is real concern that when the Pakistan delivery system is engaged, it will fly straight up for a mile, then fall right back down).

Let's have a look at the treaty.    

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