America must prepare for a nuclear Iran. It might even benefit from itby David Patrikarakos / June 30, 2010 / Leave a comment
The Bushehr nuclear power plant: Iran could now upgrade enough uranium for at least two nuclear weapons
On 9th June the UN imposed tough new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, pushed through after a seeming change of heart from President Obama. The president has, until now, followed the most dovish approach to Iran since Jimmy Carter. His change in attitude is a reaction to the failures of diplomacy. Yet behind the scenes, as Iranian nuclear progress continues, diplomats’ thoughts are turning to a new era of containment. And a provocative question must now be asked: will a nuclear Iran be such a bad thing for America?
Back in May, Brazil and Turkey brokered a deal with Iran in which it agreed to export roughly half of its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium—potential raw material for a nuclear bomb—in return for an equivalent amount of nuclear fuel. This was the biggest diplomatic “breakthrough” in six years. Yet the following month, the international community imposed sanctions that represent the most robust attack on Iran’s nuclear ambitions to date. So what happened?
Growing exasperation is partly to blame. Just two months after his inauguration, in March 2009, Obama broke with his predecessor’s sledgehammer diplomacy, offering dialogue to Iran’s people via a video message. But Iran’s response was to continue enrichment. Any hope that the uproar following the country’s 2009 presidential elections would make the regime more flexible also proved wrong.
In July 2009, perhaps sensing that diplomacy was slowing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a US nuclear umbrella to its middle east allies if the Islamic Republic got the bomb. Still nothing. Iran’s announcement in September of a previously secret enrichment plant swelled international fears; its stonewalling at the G20 summit later the same month did little to alleviate them. Frustration only intensified as Iran seemingly backtracked on a promise, made at a major October 2009 meeting in Geneva, to send its uranium abroad for enrichment. In the end, Washington simply got fed up.
At the heart of the dispute is Iran’s fuel plant at Natanz. Its stated purpose is to enrich uranium to “civilian levels” of around 5 per cent to fuel nuclear reactors for generating electricity. But Iran has no such reactors. One is under construction, but this is being built and supplied by Russia. Iran claims fuel from Natanz is for a future reactor, but this would take…