Sources in Tehran put out word Sunday, Nov, 4, that Iran had suddenly suspended 20-percent enrichment of uranium, stopping a short step from building a nuclear device. The sources were not official. However, an Iranian lawmaker on the majlis foreign affairs and national security committee, Mohammad Hossein Asfari, was quoted as saying that the move was a "goodwill" gesture, ahead of a new round of talks with the US scheduled to take place after the presidential elections in two days. He said if sanctions were not lifted in response for the “softening” in Iran’s position, enrichment would be resumed.
Other sources report that enrichment continued uninterrupted. Tehran is therefore poised to jump either way. debkafile sources note that on Oct. 20, US media reported that President Barak Obama and Iran had agreed on one-on-one talks to resolve the nuclear issue directly after the elections if Obama was returned for a second term as president. The White House then denied those reports. However, two days before the election, Tehran is transparently throwing its weight behind Obama’s campaign by suggesting to the American voter that he is the best candidate to solve the nuclear crisis without resorting to the war option.
Obama’s staff has been building up to this critical moment, step by step. In late September, debkafile’s intelligence sources report, they met secretly with Iranian emissaries and agreed that direct negotiations would be launched after the election. A team in the White House went to work on position papers for the talks. It is headed by Gary Samore, coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, and Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman who led the US delegation to the failed six-power negotiations with Iran.
This team was presented to Israel as the authors of an “endgame paper” that was to be put before Tehran as an ultimatum. But no such paper was ever shown to Jerusalem.
Last Tuesday, Oct. 30, Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak, told the Daily Telegraph on his way to London that in August, Iran quietly chose to convert 38 percent of its 20-percent stockpile of enriched uranium into fuel rods for civilian research purposes, “thereby delaying the moment when it could have built a nuclear bomb and delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months.”
These remarks painted Iran’s leaders as rational politicians, at odds with the hate-filled fanatical face shown to and by Israel. Barak only “forgot” to mention that this “gesture” was also a cover-up: Tehran had just completed the clandestine transfer of the entire set of 3,000 advanced centrifuges to the underground enrichment plant in Fordo, thereby expanding its capacity to produce medium-enriched uranium and replenish its stock.
While acting in the Obama interest and appearing to vindicate his pro-diplomacy policy, Tehran gained both time for finalizing its nuclear aspirations and two big advantages:
1. Iran overtly sacrificed just over one-third of its 20-percent enriched uranium stock, enough for one nuclear device, for the sake of clandestinely pressing forward on the production of fissile material for a whole arsenal of four to six bombs.
2. Iran managed to get its top-performance centrifuges hidden away in an almost impregnable “immune zone.”
Last April, Barak himself declared that the transfer of Iran’s nuclear program into “immune zones” would be a red line for Israel. Having made it nonetheless, Tehran is again sitting pretty and already naming a price – lifting of sanctions – for an unofficial and unverifiable claim to have halted 20-percent enrichment. But with the US presidential election almost too close to call two days before the vote, it could tip the balance.