Thursday, January 5, 2006

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Find the fool in the IAEA!!

Elaine Sciolino reports in the New York Times that those wachy Iranians are up to their old tricks on nuclear nonproliferation:

Iran threw negotiations over its nuclear program into disarray today, abruptly canceling a high-level meeting with the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency in Vienna as the head of Iran's negotiating team was said to have returned home to Tehran.

The unexpected turn of events stunned and frustrated both International Atomic Energy Agency officials and foreign diplomats. They scrambled to make sense of the Iranian's failure to attend the meeting, which was scheduled so that Iran could explain in detail its formal decision to restart sensitive nuclear research and development activities next Monday.

"There was no explanation," an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said in a telephone interview from Vienna. "We're still seeking clarification."

One explanation is that Iran has decided to defy the rest of the world and plunge ahead with nuclear activities that risk international censure or sanctions. That decision could shatter a 14-month agreement with France, Britain and Germany under which Iran agreed to suspend most of its nuclear work in return for promised rewards.

Another explanation is that in the face of strong international criticism, Iran's negotiating strategy is in disarray. Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power last year, Iran's national security apparatus, including its nuclear negotiating team and dozens of its ambassadors, has been largely replaced with people who are driven by rigid, hard-line views and lack extensive diplomatic experience.

Those last two paragraphs nicely encapsulate the underlying question before us: is this a case of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad burning through what remains of his diplomatic capital, or is this an example of Iran calling the bluff of the IAEA, the EU, and the UN Security Council, confident that the rest of the world has no endgame strategy?

Of course, one possible answer is "all of the above."

posted by Dan on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM


It seems that Iran is playing the ancient game of balancing in the Middle East...the kind that neorealism a la Waltz would suggest, right? I mean with the invasion of Iraq, the US disturbed the balance in the region...obviously Iranians are aware of the fact that they might be on the list, albeit Syria might have been in the first place a year they are rushing to get nukes and survelliance satalites of their own...they can of course manipulate the Shia in Iraq too...I wonder how many of them could stand aside or cooperate with the Coalition forces if the US and/or Israel bombs Iran?

It will be interesting to see whether other countries in the ME, particularly Turkey will join the balancing or bandwagon with the US? It looks like she would like to stay out of it...after all almost for 400 years Turkey and Iran did not was an uneasy peace...but peace anyways...but also things are sore with the US government after the Turkey's refusal of allowing US troops in the country to invade Iraq from North in the spring of 2003. In short Turkey is between a rock and a hard place...

No wonder the heads of FBI and CIA visited Turkey back to back in the last couple of weeks...the Israeli Chief of Staff also was in Ankara...and the US Chief of Staff will be visiting at the end of the month...probably followed by a visit by Secretary Rice..too much traffic going on...

Well it seems natural as using the Turkish bases and/or airspace in an attack would be the most feasible one for Israel..their pilots have already been training in the mountains of eastern Turkey...much like Iran's landscape..

But also this could also be an elobrate deterrence attempt by the know stocking up jet fuel in the bases in Turkey...sending all these security people back to back to Ankara...rumors about possible airstrikes in the spring of 2006 etc etc...I guess we'll see...

Again it will be interesting to see whether Turkey will perceive Iran's increasing power as something to balance in the region and side with the US or see the US presence as increasingly dangerous for her national security, particularly in the light of the US support for the Kurds in Northern Iraq, and balance against the US?

posted by: A. N. Onymous on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM [permalink]

Remember Thomas Schelling and throwing the steering wheel out the window? Remember Nixon and his pretending [sic] to be a mad bomber? A new strategy for a country--elect a neophyte who won't be bound by the conventions of international decorum and makes his/her own rules.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM [permalink]

One should never assume that a leader new to national office and without experience in foreign affairs knows what he is doing well enough to be playing a "game" or conducting a "strategy."

The Iron Sheik may, of course. He, or someone advising him behind the scenes may be vastly more clever than is publicly evident. But we can't really know the implications of Iran's recent conduct toward the IAEA and UN without knowing how close to having a workable atomic weapon Iran is. And we don't.

I don't mean that we can't guess and be right by accident. I mean we don't have any evidence that tells us for sure that Iran will be able to build a bomb in the next year or two -- or that it won't. Now, if Iran really is close there are all sorts of possibilities we can entertain as to the Iron Sheik's motivations and strategy. But if it isn't, what may be more likely is that Iran recent moves are most closely related to his efforts to stregthen his grip in Tehran.

There is still another possibility. Ahmadinejad may not have that much clearer an idea of how close Iran's nuclear program is to success than the West does. This is not his field of expertise, after all, and building a bomb for the first time is not like testing a new transport plane. Iranian negotiating strategy could conceivably be based on a mistaken idea of how close Iran is to being able to call the West's bluff -- that is, to defy Western threats of sanctions and triumphantly join the group of nuclear powers. The Iron Sheik may have a vision of a nuclear Iran standing up to the West and gradually having Western sanctions fall away, but he could wind up with sanctions and no bomb.

posted by: Zathras on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM [permalink]

"is this a case of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad burning through what remains of his diplomatic capital, or is this an example of Iran calling the bluff of the IAEA, the EU, and the UN Security Council, confident that the rest of the world has no endgame strategy? "


As for Ahmadinejad's strategy, I know it is considered somewhat crass to suggest it, but isn't it remotely possible that he just means exactly what he says? Perhaps he really wants Iran to have nukes so that they can destroy Israel. Is it really impossible that he believes what he says and says what he believes?

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM [permalink]

Sebastian, you are not institutionalised because a whole lot of people are giving you the benefit of the doubt about your public utterances.

Wouldn't it make sense for you to extend the same courtesy to Mr. Ahmadinejad?

posted by: J Thomas on 01.05.06 at 07:04 PM [permalink]

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