Friday, September 25, 2009

Iran Admits to Having a Secret, Underground Nuclear Facility

So let’s talk about Iran. On Monday Iran admitted that it has a secret, underground uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (pretty cool, right?). The timeline for events in the past week seems to be:

(1) Iran admitting to the IAEA that it has been building an enrichment facility for several years (though it isn’t clear if all of the equipment is installed or if the plant has actually been “turned on”),

(2) Shock and outrage in the international community that Iran would do such a thing,

(3) President Obama and other leaders of the G-20 (which is meeting today) condemned Iran for their illegal facility and demanding that international inspectors be allowed access. Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown both echoed Obama’s statements and even Dmitri Medvedev made some noises to that affect (though Medvedev’s tone was a quite a bit more conciliatory).

What’s interesting about all this is not the fact the United States has known about the facility for years (the internet is abuzz with such chatter and debates about who knew what and when), but that the United States is not saying that Iran has to be a nuclear free country. President Obama has even said that Iran has the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The peaceful use of nuclear energy has been in the US’s rhetoric for a long time, but the fact that the President is using this language right now, right after Iran admitted to having the facility and right before dialogue on the subject begins next week, makes it sound like the US is warming up a little bit to the notion of an Iranian nuclear program. Granted, the US still wants lots of multinational inspectors and restrictions so that the facility can only refine uranium up to 5% (weapons grade nuclear programs require 90%), but still the US is inching closer to conciliation.

The time is ripe for some diplomacy: the missile programs in Eastern Europe have been scrapped so Russia might actually help this time, and the US refrained from excessively harsh rhetoric during the Iranian election scandal so Ahmadinejad and his government are still willing to come to the table. The US has made quite a few sacrifices for these talks, lets hope they go somewhere.

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