By striking a nuclear deal with the U.S., the Iran’s so-called "moderate" President Rouhani is hoping to take one step back so he can take two steps forward. When he was the nuclear negotiator, he bragged about how he skillfully and deceptively manipulated the West so the program could advance. We’ve already seen the rehearsal for this play.
In a September 2005 speech, Rouhani pointed to Pakistan as an example of how Iran can succeed in forcing the West to accept it as a nuclear power. His proposed strategy had three pillars:
1. Deception: “No, we have not lied … But in some cases, we may not have disclosed information in a timely manner,” Rouhani said.
2. Using diplomacy to prevent the West from having a common front, especially in the United Nations.
3. Advancing Iran’s nuclear capabilities to the point where the West accepts it as irreversible. He said, “If one day we are able to complete the [nuclear] fuel cycle, and the world sees that it has no choice … then the situation will be different.”
There is also video of Rouhani gleaming in an interview as he talks about the tremendous progress his tactics produced. He explicitly states, “We needed time.”
The current engagement with Iran is based on a misinterpretation that Islamists cannot be both pragmatic and radical. In fact, many Islamists have rational strategies in pursuit of goals that the Western mind would see as irrational.
The regime is not trying to obtain nuclear weapons capability as quickly as possible, but as smartly as possible. The Iranian regime is under immense financial stress; stress that threatens both the stability of the regime and the viability of the nuclear program.
Much like a business investment, Rouhani is betting that a freezing or even a rolling back of Iran’s nuclear program will result in profit and long-term growth. Again, it is taking one step back in order to take two steps forward.
Consider what is being offered to Iran. Treasury Department sanctions have already been eased; Democrats in Congress want to delay new sanctions for at least four months at the request of the White House and the Obama Administration is considering rewarding Iran by giving it access to billions of dollars in seized assets.
The U.S. is offering to lighten the sanctions on Iran if the regime agrees to freeze its nuclear program for six months. Rouhani is adamant that uranium enrichment is his country’s right, so it is more likely than not that he’d reject this proposal.
As Robert Zarate, Policy Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, explains, this stock brings Iran 9/10ths of the way towards having the bomb-grade stock of 90%. It has already jumped over the most time-consuming hurdle. Top nuclear scientists believe Iran would need only one month to make the bomb-grade uranium from an existing stockpile enriched to 20%.
All the reports indicate that the U.S. will allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium to 3.5% for domestic energy purposes. That isn’t much of an improvement. That is still 7/10ths of the way towards having a stock of bomb-grade uranium. Zarate writes that the enrichment of 3.5% uranium to bomb-grade can be completed within 6 to 10 weeks. The Institute for Science and International Security projects it would take 2.2 to 4.5 months.
The overall deal is based on the premise that the U.S. would immediately detect a move towards a bomb. It’s a high-stakes gamble that U.S. intelligence on Iran is timely, complete and credible. Even if that is the case, the U.S. will still be in a rush to mobilize support domestically and internationally to militarily stop Iran at the last moment.
The deal becomes better for Iran and worse for the regime’s enemies with each second that ticks by. The Institute for Science and International Security estimates that Iran’s timeframe for being able to produce bomb-grade uranium will be reduced to one month in mid-2014.
“IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inaction or caution could make an international response all but impossible before Iran has produced enough weapon-grade uranium for one or more nuclear weapon,” the Institute warns.
Remember, the Obama Administration wants to delay new sanctions by four months. Even if the new sanctions happens, Iran will only have to tolerate them for three or four months before achieving nuclear “breakout” capacity; the point where Iran can make a mad dash towards making a nuke.
Then there’s the dilemma of Iran’s plutonium plant. Once it becomes operational in June 2015, it will be able to produce enough fuel for two nuclear bombs every year—in addition to the uranium enrichment program. Iran is resisting French demands that construction be halted as part of the deal.
The plutonium reprocessing route is the same one used by North Korea, Iran’s nuclear-armed ally. The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad also pursued it, resulting in an Israeli airstrike on its nuclear site in 2007.
Let’s suppose Iran gives in to all demands as part of the deal. The regime will still be able to work on its ballistic missile program and construct more overt and covert enrichment sites, centrifuges and other equipment. Meanwhile, the more sensitive work can be done by North Korea.
“Sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The U.S. is being misled by Iran’s taqiyya, the doctrine of deception that originates within the Shiite branch of Islam that the regime comes from. President Obama said, “I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution. Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.”
The problem with that basis is that there’s not a single piece of evidence that the fatwa even exists beyond Khamenei’s words. Yigal Carmon, president of the Middle East Media Research Institute, points out that a regime-linked website published almost 500 fatwas from Khamenei dating back to 2004 in July. Not a single one relates to nukes.
That means that the fatwa either doesn’t exist or the regime doesn’t want the world to see its text. The only plausible explanation is that an escape clause exists in it that Iran prefers to hide.
The fatwa, if it is real, has to be based on conditions. After all, U.N. inspectors have proof that Iran has worked on nuclear warheads, nuclear triggers, built underground enrichment facilities clearly designed for nuke production and even started work on a potential underground nuclear test site. Iran has also simulated a potential nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse strike.
None of these have realistic civilian applications. If the Iranian regime truly believed nuclear weapons are never permissible, it would not invest in weapons-related research that risks sanctions and war.
Remember Rouhani’s smiles in 2005 as he talked about how he led the West on. That’s the same expression he has on his face now.
Watch free stream of Clarion Project's critically-acclaimed Iranium, the film that exposes the Iranian regime's race to achieve nuclear weapons and its uncompromising, extremist ideology.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.