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Nuclear Negotiations with Iran: Our Man in Vienna

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By Donald Sassano
Special Contributor to In Homeland Security

I’ll admit it up front. I’m not the individual one should look to when seeking insight into the ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, at least from a narrow, scientific standpoint.

My friends learned long ago to listen patiently to my queries whenever a doohickey or whatnot required attention around the house. I swear I can still see them rolling their eyes from the other end of the phone. My wife, who surely knows me best, charges ahead without my counsel when any such endeavor could conceivably involve a) a screwdriver, b) a hammer, or c) anything plugged into the wall. In those situations, I’m relegated to clean up duties.

I therefore leave discussions about electromagnetic pulses and hydrodynamic-neutronics to other, more qualified voices such as, presumably, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and it’s General Director Yukiya Amano. But only up to a point, as Lord Copper was fond of saying.

But the favorable geo-strategic consequences that will flow from an agreement – even a less than perfect agreement – have not been lost on me. In addition to a nuclear weapons-free Iran subject to intrusive inspection and limited break-out capacity, success could set the table for U.S.-Iranian cooperation in the fight against ISIL, effective Syrian peace talks with Tehran at the negotiating table, trade and economic benefits, and a strengthened moderate leadership that may be counted upon to hold sway in Tehran. What’s not to like?

This is why the Obama administration should be scratching its head when assessing the IAEA’s performance now that negotiations have bumped up against a second deadline. Knowingly or not, Amano has been a Buttinski, a fly in the ointment, and a deal killing enabler for those who work to scuttle any agreement, no matter how rational the outcome.

Amano replaced Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei who, after stepping down stated that he had not seen “a shred of evidence” that Iran was “building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials…All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” And while Amano’s champions claim he is the very model of a bland international technocrat, doubts about his judgment began to circulate shortly after he assumed leadership late in 2009 and resonate to this day.

WikiLeaks revealed that American diplomat Geoffrey Pyatt, then Deputy Chief of Mission to the IAEA, advised higher ups at the State Department that Amano would prove “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.” He also reported Amano’s reluctantly stated professional obligation to make “occasional concessions” to developing countries, most of whom stand behind Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment.

Pyatt determined the U.S. would likely benefit from ElBaradei’s ringer of a replacement. But as the Obama administration struggles to change the trajectory of U.S.-Iranian relations, I believe that Amano never received the memo, having given in to the urge to investigate Iran’s history of nuclear weapons research, or so-called PMD (possible military dimensions). That activity has led some legal experts to conclude the IAEA is acting outside its mandate.

Incredibly, the IAEA’s PMD conjecture has centered on a mysterious document of dubious origin the import of which, as I have admitted above, is beyond my ability to discern. However, one can’t help but recall recent history, especially aluminum tubes and the run-up to war in Iraq. Moreover, PMD is another in a long line of fear-mongering worst case arguments glommed on to by those who wish to strangle any agreement in the crib. The Obama administration should privately pat the good director on his head, thank him for his efforts, and ask him to stand in the corner.

Practically speaking, Iran will never admit to having conducted nuclear weapons research and for good reason. Doing so would kill a deal they are close to fully invested in. And diplomatically, we should by now understand who we are dealing with. ElBaradei observed that Iran’s posture is often derived from “a negotiating culture shaped by the bazaar.” Moreover, they know that we know they conducted weapons research that ended in 2003 after neighbor Saddam Hussein was toppled.

The conclusion of the Defense Intelligence Agency: Iran likely worked on weaponization principally due to fear of Iraq, not the West or Israel — not an unreasonable motivation given their bitter war experience from 1980 to 1988. My guess is PMD-like pressure has never been brought to bear on others who pursued, then relinquished similar programs, including South Africa, Argentina and Sweden. But efforts to humiliate Tehran by insisting they cry uncle will surely backfire and are akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face – solving a problem that no longer exists while simultaneously inviting further troubles when the talks predictably break down.

About the Author
Donald Sassano is a businessman with strong interests in Middle Eastern politics, U.S. Grand Strategy, and political theory. He completed his Master’s Degree in International Relations and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Comparative and Security Issues at American Military University in 2013.

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