Keep illusions out of any nuclear deal with Iran

The News TribuneNovember 27, 2013 

In a photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news briefing Sunday in Tehran.

MOHAMMAD BERNO/PRESIDENCY OFFICE

Can the Great Satan and the Iranian branch of the Axis of Evil kiss and make up?

Doubtful. The mullahs who sit atop Iran’s theocracy remain steeped in hatred of all things Western, particularly the United States.

But there’s an outside chance they’ll step back from the nuclear brink to escape punishing international economic sanctions. The six-month deal signed last weekend by Iran and six great powers might flush out the mullahs’ intentions.

The agreement temporarily eases sanctions in exchange for a suspension of Iran’s march toward a nuclear arsenal. In the meantime, diplomats will try to work out a permanent arrangement that leaves Iran weapons free.

Skeptics rightly point to the theocracy’s long record of deception, brutality and terrorism. We hope the Obama administration isn’t entering into this relationship with any illusions about whom they’re dealing with.

For the United States, the biggest risk is that Iran and multinational corporations will use the interim agreement to permanently unravel sanctions without unraveling the weapons plants. A near-nuclear Iran would rip the fragile web of deterrence and overlapping interests that holds together what passes for peace in the Middle East.

Arab leaders are already terrified by the prospect of a Shiite bomb. Israel – whose very existence has been threatened by Iranian leaders – would probably launch pre-emptive air strikes to prevent it, with Arabs quietly smiling. Yet any outside attack on Iran would leave the country more vicious than a rattlesnake on a stovetop – and more bent on a bomb than ever.

The only clear way to avoid the catastrophe of a nuclear-ready Iran would be a stand-down by the theocracy. Are the mullahs interested enough in ridding their country of sanctions to actually go there – as opposed to pretending to go there?

The six-month agreement may tell us. U.S. negotiators will continue to negotiate, pushing for an ironclad, verifiable, no-nukes treaty.

President Obama in times past has seemed to attribute the hostility of enemies to mere misunderstandings. While the mullahs often misread the United States, they nevertheless hate what they do understand.

Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons rests on two foundations: its centrifuges – thousands of them – capable of producing weapons-grade uranium, and a partly built reactor that would be capable of producing plutonium.

That infrastructure will keep Iran within striking distance of a bomb as long as it exists. If a permanent treaty dismantles enough of its nuclear factories, the interim agreement will go down as a spectacular success. If they ultimately remain in place, the deal that left them intact will be a fool’s bargain.

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