Even if Iran rejects the draft proposal by IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei to enrich uranium outside the country by the deadline of Friday, October 23, past experience shows that Iran never says “no” outright, only “Yes, but…” leaving the door open for discussion during which Iranian officials shoot down anything they dislike.
But judging from its diplomatic conduct in the last decade, even a yes will entail shilly-shallying first.
Thursday, Oct. 22, Iran's deputy parliament speaker, Reza Bahonar, dismissed the IAEA director's draft plan to have Tehran ship its uranium abroad for enrichment as unacceptable. This may be a straw in the wind, although the official Iranian News Agency comments that he does not speak for the government which is responsible for this decision. Making everyone wait anxiously for weeks or even months for its decision would show the world who holds the whip hand and prove Iran the equal of America, Russia or France as a great power.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly Iranian sources say that if Iran's leaders decide to accept the proposal, they will need more than a couple of days to prepare the public. Only six days ago, on Oct. 18, a suicide bomber killed 42 people in the Baluchi town of Sarbaz slicing off the entire Revolutionary Guards al Qods top command in southeastern Iran, notably its deputy commander Brig. Gen. Nur Ali Shoushtari.
The IRGC chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari bluntly accused US intelligence of complicity in the attack and threatened to retaliate with “a crushing response.” So signing a deal with America so soon would be hard to explain to Iranians in terms of national pride and revolutionary upmanship.
Ahmadinejad scorns America as a paper tiger
Powerful circles inside the regime would also need to be won over: Jafari would object on behalf of the military and so would President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hardline cronies, including nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who actually tried to derail the three-power talks with Iran in Vienna this week.
Sunday, October 18, one of his aides maintained that Iran does not need Russia or France to raise the enrichment level of its uranium. Abdolfazl Zohrehvand, advisor to Jalili in his capacity as head of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, told the Iranian news agency: “Circumstances may arise under which Iran will require uranium enriched to 63 percent and we have no problem to achieve it.”
Two senior clerics are also part of the opposition camp: Ayatollahs Hossein Nuri and Mesbah Yazdi subscribe to Ahmadenijed's doctrine that America is a paper tiger who will never attack Iran itself or let Israel do so. And thanks to its exceptional political position and strategic ties with China, Iran has nothing to fear from sanctions. Iran should ignore its adversaries and forge ahead single-mindedly with its military nuclear program up to and including the production of a nuclear weapon. This would assure its present and future role as the leading Muslim power of Asia and the Middle East.
Such obstacles as relations with the nuclear watchdog in Vienna, the problem of international inspections, ties with Europe – can all be eroded, according to the Ahmadinejad doctrine, by wearing Tehran's challengers down at the negotiating table.
Shipping the uranium out in dribs and drabs to maintain stocks
Ahmadinejad's personal power is rooted in the success of his doctrine in action; he is applauded not just by his fans but the man who counts in Tehran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Our Iranian sources expect the powers-that-be in Tehran to focus now on four steps:
1. Long and tedious dickering over the mechanics of shipping 1,200 kg. of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France. Iran will flatly reject an American demand to consign it all in one shipment during the coming weeks. Obama will not be allowed to walk off with the coup of talking Iran into parting with its entire uranium stock for the construction of a weapon.
2. Insisting on its transfer in small parcels over a year or two, so that every 200 kg going out will be replaced by an equal amount from Natanz, a device for keeping the hardline opposition at bay and refuting any claim by Washington that Iran's capacity to build a bomb had been postponed by one year.
3. Forcing the IAEA to accept Iranian representatives and scientists at the Russian and French enrichment facilities with a say on the technical process and level of enrichment. They will be empowered to halt the process until they are heeded.
4. A guarantee endorsed by the UN Security Council that the uranium quantity shipped out of the country be restored in full should reprocessing be halted in Russia or France for any reason.
Given all these ifs and buts, it is hard to see the ElBaradei proposal taking off any time in 2010 even if it is approved in Tehran.