Ali Vaez injects some sanity into the discussion of the IAEA report on Iran:

Many Iran-watchers expected the report’s biggest news to be evidence that elements of a nuclear program were not shut down in 2003, as previous U.S. intelligence reports claimed. But the report only described dispersed activities, mostly related to dual-use technologies. The scale and scope of these experiments appear much smaller than Iran’s pre-2003 program, which was better structured and more vigorously pursued [bold mine-DL].

The one big thing this report tells us is that there is still time to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. Targeted sanctions and export controls have succeeded in seriously hampering Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, as their centrifuges continue to underperform. After a decade of Iran’s program waxing and waning, and under rigorous surveillance by the intelligence services of at least ten countries, Iran’s goal of securing the ultimate weapon remains as elusive as ever. Most importantly, all evidence suggests that the decision to make a nuclear weapon has not yet been made [bold mine-DL].

One certain way to make sure that the Iranian regime decides to build nuclear weapons is to make it believe that the acquisition of such weapons is imperative for the regime’s security and survival. The best way to do this is to seek to impose increasingly harsh sanctions on Iran leading eventually to the possibility of conflict. Paul Pillar made the same point earlier today:

Commentary such as that heard this week entrenches the further theme that Iran is on an inexorable march toward building a nuclear weapon, with no consideration to all the influences, many of which are in the control of the United States, that will help to determine whether or not Tehran ever takes that step.

Because of this, it matters a great deal whether Americans, especially American officials, accept that the Iranian regime is rationally self-interested, wants to survive, and will respond to incentives. If people in our government operate on the assumption that none of these is true, it is hard to see how our policy towards Iran won’t keep leading us down the path to unnecessary conflict. As ever, belief in the inevitability of a future war makes it much more likely that the parties involved will fail to seize the many opportunities to avoid it.

Update: Barbara Slavin discusses the IAEA report in some detail here. Her assessment:

Thus the findings appear to be consistent with a much maligned 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate which expressed “medium confidence” that Iran had not restarted a weaponisation programme at that time.

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