2009-09-26

Arms Control Wonk, I really used to like them

     I told more than a few people that the only people to trust on the subject of Iran and their nuclear ambitions, the only reasoned voices, were Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at Harvard and Ray Takeyh at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Well, Dr. Lewis's blog, ArmsControlWonk, has drunk the kool-aid.  Recent stories on Iran are completely one-sided and include all sorts of scare-mongering phrases like "a worrying development."  According to Ahmadinejad, they are one year ahead of their reporting requirements, and the IAEA will be able to inspect the facility, but for Andreas Persbo, this is "worrying."

     Even Jeffrey jumps on the scare-monger bandwagon, with his suggestion that the Qom site "ought to put the focus of our policy back on getting more access to the Iranian program to detect and deter the construction of undeclared facilities[.]"  For a moment, since there is no evidence to the contrary, let's take the Iranians at face value, and say that this is a facility for producing reactor fuel.  If so, Iran had every right to build it, and, no requirement to declare it before the shovels hit soil.  Are we really going to get into the business of stopping legal things?  Dr. Lewis doesn't leave me much wiggle room in interpreting his remarks.




Persbo suggests that any smuggling from Esfahan to Qom would be detectable by the IAEA, but he ignores the fact that the IAEA has already been invited to Qom.



Dr. Lewis writes "This is the scenario we’ve been warning about all along." but, if Iran is to be believed and the facility is for a nuclear power plant, what exactly are we being warned about?"

8 comments:

Terry said...

-The facility is clearly far too small to have been intended for an energy fuel cycle.

-If the Iranians intended it to be a peaceful, declared facility...why bury it under a mountain at a remote desert air force base? The logistical implications of building and operating it there are significant.

-3.1 required the Iranians to report at design phase. The Iranians did "withdraw" from this agreement, but that was after they began building this facility. They clearly did not do what, at the time, they promised to do.

-Even a cursory search of public imagery databases shows that this facility has been the subject of intensive satellite imaging for some time. So the claim that US/UK/France agencies have known about this facility since 2007, seems to me both likely and credible.

JSN said...

With IAEA inspections, it will be useful for nothing but an energy fuel cycle.

Why did they bury it? Post-Osirik paranoia, in part. If you were Iran, would you put all your nuclear technology in a regularly constructed surface building? Really?

I'm sure, since the construction was so new, there's complete plausible deniability from the Iranians re: the purpose of Qom circa 2007.

While I'll defer to you on the question of whether or not US/UK/French agencies have known about Qom, I'll point out that the Iranian declaration made America left America looking a bit flat-footed. Specifically, knowledge of an underground base is not the same as knowing it is for an enrichment facility.

JSN said...

Also, as WIIIAI put it: "The most unlikely part of this story? That the US supposedly for years possessed intel that would have advanced Dick Cheney’s agenda, but failed to leak it."

Terry said...

The idea that Iran built this facility simply to disperse their energy fuel cycle, are patently rediculous. It is too small by an order of magnitude, and they did not build a series of them - they built one.

You trust the Iranians to make good on promised inspections of this facility. Given that they promised to declare facilities before they broke ground on them, then promptly built this facility without such notice, gives a reasonable basis to doubt them re inspections. Time will tell.

Your point re why would the Americans keep this quiet, is off the mark. Read what the US said about what they knew, when, more carefully. They knew of the construction for some time - but only gained a high level of confidence as to its purpose recently.

JSN said...

Their promise to reveal the plans before they broke down was undone when they dropped the requirements of the Additional Protocols, which they had signed onto voluntarily in the first place (according to the IAEA).

Second, you are missing, apparently, some large parts of the picture.

One is national pride.

Second is electoral politics, or, "I am the President who brought you nuclear enrichment." Both Mousavi and Ahmadinejad wants nuclear power for Iran, one guy delivered.

Third is the expertise question. Having even a small facility means you have a complete set of people to manage the job at any scale, people with practical knowledge. This is invaluable.

My opinion of what the U.S. knew and when it knew it is really unimportant, and neither of us can prove anything, because the relevant agencies keep everything important a secret. Did you know that the first USSC "State's Secret" case, Reynolds, was a fraud? There were no State secrets being protected, except that some corners had been cut, some bad decisions made, and people died as a result.

Terry said...

You are incorrect about Iran's ability to unilaterally withdraw from the Additional Protocols.

James Acton summarizes this quite well, so rather than repeat the argument, I'll provide a link:
http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=23884&prog=zgp&proj=znpp

JSN said...

Thanks, Terry, although you did say I was wrong, and I wasn't. I said they signed onto the additional protocols voluntarily, I never said they dropped them according to plan.

This sounds like a poorly considered treaty. If a single U.S. President were to declare that America would be subject to inspections and declarations, no future President could ever undo it?

Has America ever met its obligations under the NNPT?

JSN said...

Now let's drop the legalistic issues for a moment, and deal with pragmatic and practical issues.

The Iranians have agreed to an inspection in some weeks time. You know as well as I do that there is no way a full inspection could fail to detect enrichment of bomb grade uranium. You claim it is "far too small" for nuclear fuel. You didn't leave your self an ounce of wiggle room there, did you? Not even a shred. That means you claim it is for HEU. What happens when the inspections continue and that turns out not to be the case?

You also say you don't trust the Iranians to participate in the inspection later this month. You say since they didn't declare this facility during the planing phase they are not to be trusted now. Yet, you completely fail to see that, even if the NNPT doesn't allow Iran to drop extra impositions it voluntarily puts on itself, Iran *is* playing by the rules in an internally consistent fashion.

I'm not saying to never be suspicious of the Iranians, but some of your statements were completely unequivocal, and now appear to be wrong, which makes you [Please, Terry, fill in the blank for me here].

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