The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

External Enrichment Part Deux?

April 22, 2006

The BBC (via FP Passport, my new favorite ‘msm’ blog) is reporting that Iran and Russia may have yet again reached a deal to shift the enrichment of Iranian uranium to Russia.

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Iranian radio he had struck a basic agreement…Mr Soltanieh said the joint enrichment company would operate on Russian soil

This is almost exactly the same thing Iran said in February. It is an attempt to revive an old Russian compromise plan which proposed moving all Tehran’s sensitive nuclear work to Russia.

If true this may be the diplomatic breakthrough necessary to avert an aerial strike by the US and/or Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities–at least in the short term. However, a few factors complicate this deal.

First, my guess is the United States and some European countries will be skeptical given that Iran rejected a similar proposal not too long ago. One has to ask what has changed. The BBC report suggests that since Iran can now enrich uranium itself it feels that it is negotiating from a position of strength, able to resume domestic enrichment if Russia were to cut off its supply. But this should make the Western parties even more skeptical–after all, Iran can use the enriched uranium from Russia for civilian purposes while possibly continuing with large-scale domestic enrichment on the scale necessary for weaponization–essentially playing for time, which seems to be the greatest concern of the US these days (and rightly so).

Second, I am not sure to what extent the US is willing to trust the Russians on this sensitive question. Given Russia’s economic and political interests as well as the deteriorating trust between the former Cold War rivals (passing along classified war plans to one’s adversary before hostilities tends to chill relations), to what extent are we willing to accept such an arrangment where trust in Russia is critical? I am not sure, but I wouldn’t bet that the Pentagon stops drawing up operational plans for using force against Tehran if the deal goes through.

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.