Third party dealing with Iran may be best course for now

Editorial

The announcement that Iran and Russia have reached a tentative deal for Russia to enrich uranium in Russia for nuclear plants in Iran offers a faint hope that a showdown between Iran and the “international community” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions can be averted — for now. No doubt there will be deviltry in the details, but this is welcome news.

If Iran contracts out uranium enrichment to Russia, there is at least a chance the process can be monitored with a degree of accuracy and fears that Iran would acquire enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon would ease somewhat. This could avert a showdown in the U.N. Security Council, which has been scheduled to consider whether to impose economic sanctions on Iran ever since Iran announced two weeks ago it had restarted a small-scale uranium-enrichment project.

Although some might disagree, this would be good news for the U.S., which has enough problems just now dealing with Iraq.

Some have argued for a military strike to try to take out potential Iranian nuclear sites. Such a strike would be much more complicated and less likely to succeed than the 1981 Israeli strike against the Iraqi nuclear facility at Osiraq.

U.S. intelligence on Iran is shaky, but most authorities agree that Iranian nuclear facilities are more “hardened” than Osiraq was, that many are underground, and that some are unknown to outsiders. Thus a military strike, even if tactically successful, would slow but not halt Iran’s nuclear efforts. It might even cause Iran to accelerate its efforts, without pretending to comply with international regulations.

“I have little doubt that while Iran might produce nuclear power for peaceful purposes that it is also seeking a nuclear weapon,” said Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “A deal with Russia could delay weapons development, but it would have to be closely monitored.”

Russia is protecting its own interests in the Iranian nuclear program, but may have other motives, Carpenter said. It would prefer that Iran, directly to its south, not have nuclear weapons. And it doesn’t want to see a U.S. military strike that close to its own borders.

Eventually it will make sense for the U.S. to discuss nuclear and other concerns with Iran directly rather than relying on third parties. For now, however, a Russian-Iranian deal on uranium enrichment that can be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency could postpone the crisis that an Iranian nuclear weapon would precipitate.