Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nuclear Common Ground

Using nuclear nonproliferation as a cudgel to beat up those we dislike for other reasons is a dangerous and irresponsible game.

The politicization of non-proliferation may contain the seeds of a healthy awakening of concern and questioning of what politicians really mean when they use the term, but at least for now it seems a true tragedy. Competition to see who can do it best is fine, but competition reduced to ostracizing and insulting the other camp sadly weakens momentum of a crucial vision always more honored than observed. All rational humans can agree that, whether or not total nonproliferation (given the availability of nuclear knowledge) is practical, at least management of nukes is essential. And this is the common ground for Iran, which calls on Israel to accept inspections, and Israel, which calls on Iran to accept inspections, to meet in mutual self-interest to negotiate.

Unless Obama is about to pull some sort of diplomatic magic out of his hat, history will condemn him for a huge failure in missing the opportunity to lead the way. First, he should be criticized for failing to use his recent Washington conference as a means of bringing Iranian and Israeli representatives to the table together to discuss the obvious common concern of nuclear transparency. Second is a developing failure-not responding positively to signals from Iran’s counter-conference.

At that meeting, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mahmanparast told Reuters on 4/17/10:

We want to exchange 3.5 percent enriched uranium, 1 tonne, for 100 kg (220 lb) of 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel inside Iran under the supervision of the IAEA and we are ready for interaction.

This sort of Iranian statement is hardly new but in the midst of a torrent of aggressive behavior out of Washington in recent days, it constitutes a remarkably conciliatory and reasonable step. After all, the issue here concerns medical-grade uranium that the West long ago agreed to provide to Iran and to which Iran is legally and morally entitled. To argue over this is unseemly and only weakens the Western case against Iran.

The issue of medical-grade uranium is not a step on the path toward militarization; on the contrary, it is a step on the road toward treating Iran as a normal state. Suddenly withholding medical-grade uranium, which has long been provided to Iran by the West, is punishment for the unrelated issue of transparency on militarization. That is an important issue, and Washington should stop confusing it with everything else.

Whatever Ahmadinejad’s intentions, and at a minimum they obviously including playing up anti-Iranian discrimination by the U.S. to buttress his career, Obama is playing into his hands by denying medical-grade uranium, respect, invitations to international conferences to Iran on the apparent pretense that such spanking of Iran will protect the world from nuclear nonproliferation. As long as Ahmadinejad can persuasively claim he is being bullied, he will have a great career and any Iranian national security official tempted to speak in favor of a conciliatory foreign policy will be undercut.

The attitude of Ahmadinejad or any other Iranian official is really not the issue here. The point is that Obama is continuing the discredited (!?!) and failed neo-con policy of one-sided reliance on force, making the West look bad and empowering zenophobia in Iran. If the real game Washington wants to play is all about power politics, fine. It can contest control of the Mideast with Iran all it wants. But nuclear proliferation is too dangerous a trend to be subordinated to competition over the Mideast. Steps to reduce the likelihood of Iran militarizing exist and should be taken. The power game can be played either way but much more responsibly—and possibly a good deal more effectively—if Washington recognizes and publicly articulates the common interest of Americans, Iranians, Israelis, and everyone else in improving the international management of nuclear capabilities. That is not properly a cudgel with which to beat those we dislike; it is one of the most important goals of international affairs that exists.
More details on the Medical-Grade Uranium Issue:

  1. Comment 4/16/10 by Arnold Evans on Race For Iran providing a detailed analysis of the presumed logic of a U.S. position that remains partly unrevealed by authorities

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