Mar 10, 2014
With Iran, Obama Needs More Carrot, Less Stick
Posted on Nov 13, 2008
By Scott Ritter
By minimizing, or eliminating, the problems associated with any potential nuclear weapons delivery system, such as the Shahib-3 missile, the Obama administration could then focus on resolving the standoff over Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. In this, Obama will be able to turn to a new initiative from a close American ally in the Persian Gulf region, the United Arab Emirates, for some “framework” around which new policies might be constructed. I recently attended a NATO conference held in Abu Dhabi, where the UAE government spoke in some detail about its new policy concerning the evaluation and potential development of nuclear energy. Three major items emerged from this policy announcement: first and foremost, the legitimacy of an oil- and natural gas-rich Middle Eastern nation requiring an alternative means of energy production to offset the demands placed on its energy exportation by increasing domestic demands for energy. The UAE decision was driven by economic analysis which showed a cumulative annual growth rate in energy consumption from 2007 through 2020 of some 9 percent, resulting in increased demands for upwards of 40,000 megawatts, which the UAE is not in a position to provide through traditional energy supplies. Iran, of course, made a similar analysis in the mid-1970s when it decided to embark on an ambitious nuclear energy program. Iran’s logic for pursuing nuclear energy has been derided by many who view Tehran’s ambitions as merely a front for a military program. The analysis of the UAE demonstrates the legitimacy of the Iranian nuclear energy need, and should lay to rest any logic-driven analysis that defines Iran’s nuclear ambition as being military in nature simply because Iran is deemed to be a nation “awash in a sea of oil,” to quote past and current Bush administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The UAE noted that it was committed to the “highest standards of nonproliferation” when it came to pursuing any potential nuclear energy program, renouncing any intention to develop domestic enrichment and reprocessing capability. On the surface, the UAE’s approach seems to stand as a contrast to the position taken by Iran, which has committed to an indigenous mastery of the entire nuclear fuel cycle, inclusive of enrichment and reprocessing. However, the UAE’s commitment to nonproliferation is contingent upon two pillars. The first is the ability of the UAE to source nuclear fuel from “reliable and responsible foreign suppliers.” The UAE has also expressed an interest in creating a regional nuclear fuel bank that would guarantee the program access to nuclear fuel in times of regional and/or global unrest and uncertainty. In reviewing the Iranian program, one finds the same need for a guaranteed source of nuclear fuel as the driving force behind Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The vagaries of economic embargoes and sanctions make any Iranian nuclear energy program linked to outside sources of supply futile indeed. The continued American insistence on using economic sanctions and threatening economic embargoes as a means to compel Iran to back down from its position on uranium enrichment is illogical and counterproductive given these realities. Instead, the United States should be seeking to combine Iran’s need for reliable sources of economic-sanction resistant nuclear fuel with that of the UAE (and, looking down the road, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and even Iraq), so that a regional nuclear fuel bank would indeed be just that—regional, inclusive of Iran and its Gulf Arab neighbors.
The second pillar of the UAE nonproliferation commitment was more reality-driven: The small size of any future UAE nuclear reactor program makes the expense of an indigenous uranium enrichment program infeasible. As such, the UAE is well positioned to take a high-minded stance when it comes to adhering to “concerns from the international community regarding spent fuel reprocessing and enrichment plants in developing countries, and the dual-use nature of components employed in fuel fabrication and processing.” Simply put, it can’t afford not to. Iran, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. There is no comparison between the scope and scale of the UAE’s nascent nuclear program with that of Iran. Unlike the UAE, the Iranian program is of a size that could justify an indigenous uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing effort, just as the nuclear energy programs of France, Japan and Germany justify their national fuel-cycle programs.
Establishing a policy that accepts the right of Iran to pursue indigenous enrichment of uranium is actually the soundest approach toward getting Iran to back away from the hard-line position it has taken, because when push comes to shove, Iran cannot afford the uranium enrichment program it has embarked on. This, however, is a conclusion that Iran needs to make, free of international pressure. By respecting Iran’s legal right to enrich uranium, the Obama administration would liberate Iran to make reasoned, rational decisions about its economic future, decisions that would take into account the overall economic health of the country, void of the conservative, nationalistic inputs generated in response to outside pressure.
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