KAHLILI: Dodging the Iranian nuclear bomb

Only France had the fortitude to thwart ‘a sucker’s deal’

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Had France not balked, the P5+1 group of world powers might have allowed Iran to get its foot in the door of the nuclear-armed clubhouse.

“One wants a deal,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Sunday in Geneva as the latest round of negotiations over Iran’s illicit nuclear program broke up, “but not a sucker’s deal.”

Indeed, that’s exactly what the Islamic Republic has been playing the world powers as — suckers — for years and years as it seeks to buy time to develop nuclear weapons and force the West to accept its nuclear status as a fait accompli.

Iran’s latest bait-and-switch ploy began earlier this year as the regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his ruling cadre of mullahs changed tactics to buy the precious time needed to complete their goal of becoming the undisputed power in the region. They have mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and are steps away from nuclear weaponization.

The new tactics to achieve that? Present a new face of Iran to the world, one of sincere moderation and reasonableness, someone unlike the boastful bully, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So the mullahs settled on Hassan Rouhani to become the new president in June’s elections. Mr. Rouhani would give the Iranian people something to hope for, someone who would change course and help end the crush of the staggeringly strict sanctions. The Iranian economy is on the brink of collapse and so, too, feared the mullahs, might their reign be. That fear is so palpable that the theocracy has drawn up plans to deploy Revolutionary Guard, Basij and internal security forces against its own people to brutally suppress any uprising against the worsening economic crisis.

No one is allowed to run for president of the Islamic Republic unless he will further the goals of the theocracy. Those who try to run without the mullahs’ blessing are either jailed or executed. While Mr. Rouhani ran as a moderate, he is exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This wolf tried to pull the wool over the world’s eyes. Media around the world hailed him as a moderate and welcomed a change in Iran’s direction. The new president went to New York in September and told the United Nations General Assembly what it wanted to hear, and Mr. Rouhani even had a phone chat with President Obama.

The stage was set for the latest bait and switch. First, a hint was given to the world powers that the time was right for a deal that would end the standoff and sanctions. The bait was set. The world powers sent their deputy foreign ministers to Geneva for the latest round of talks to work out the details.

Then Iran switched. It demanded what it had previously demanded: the right to enrich uranium and the right to expand its nuclear facilities, all the while working to bring a plutonium facility at Arak online, which would give it a second path to nuclear weapons.

Startled, Secretary of State John Kerry and his foreign minister counterparts rushed to Geneva to save the “deal.” Intense negotiations into early Sunday morning failed. Iran was intransigent — but so was France.

Back-channel negotiations and secret meetings between the Obama administration and Iranian officials representing the views of the supreme leader go back to 2009. At that time, Iran was subject to several U.N. sanctions conditioned on its suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, which had producted 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium at its Natanz facility. The regime agreed to move forward with negotiations.

The high-level talks in Geneva in October 2009 seemed promising when the Iranian delegates agreed to the terms of the P5+1 group to export 75 percent of its enriched uranium and to allow further inspection of its nuclear facilities. As millions of Iranians took to the streets demanding change, the proposed agreement gave the regime enough time to suppress its own people, torturing and killing many while the free world watched.

Early in 2010 when the threat of uprising was over, the regime announced that the terms agreed to in Geneva were no longer acceptable and that now they had also mastered enriching to the 20 percent level, which is 80 percent of the way to weaponization.

This time, the P5+1 wants Iran to suspend its nuclear program for six months in return for the easing of some minor sanctions. No, the Iranians said. We want all sanctions ended on our oil and banking industries. We might curb enriching uranium to the 20 percent level, but that’s it.

The race for time is on. Iran needs the oil and banking sanctions ended to prevent the imminent collapse of its economy and an uprising of its people. It would buy more time to work on weaponization with the enriched uranium it already has.

Today, Iran has more than 19,000 centrifuges and over 10 tons of low-enriched uranium, along with more than 400 pounds of highly enriched uranium at the 20 percent level, which can be converted to weapons grade within weeks. It also has over 1,000 ballistic missiles in heavily fortified facilities and many on mobile vehicles.

This is what time has already bought. Now Iran is stalling for even more time.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for a former CIA operative in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and author of “A Time to Betray” (Simon & Schuster, 2010).

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