Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A James Baker Moment

David Billington raises a good point in his response to my earlier post about the Geneva talks. Doesn't the U.S. get what it wants if the Geneva agreement is actually implemented?

Yes and no. Yes in that the immediate danger of Iranian nuclear proflieration is ended. No in that the infrastructure and know-how remains intact, giving Iran a possible hedge down the road. The U.S. principal intent has always been to deproliferate Iran--with all equipment and facilities dismantled and removed--not to supervise an Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

I talk about the Obama administration facing a "James Baker moment" in this column. What I mean by the term is the extent to which the U.S. limits its own policy preferences in return for getting maximum international support on a key development [e.g. better to have a broad coalition supporting the explusion of Saddam Hussein from Iraq rather than go to Baghdad alone.]

Nick - Thank you for the follow-up comment.

I agree that if we demand changes to Iranian policy in other contexts we could unravel the present consensus behind the Geneva agreement. In reflecting on your analysis, though, I think now that I would underline my caveat more strongly. If we accept a nuclear-only agreement, we might have problems down the road that would apply not just to the proposed agreement but also to a stronger one requiring Iran to dismantle its existing nuclear infrastructure.

Once Secretary Baker and the first President Bush decided to limit the 1991 war in order to gain international support, the implementation was simply to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. In the current situation with Iran, a path to implementation is not as clear unless all of Iran's facilities for enrichment and supplies of uranium can be accounted for.

Any effort to monitor a nuclear agreement could lead to the kind of tensions that accompanied inspections of Iraq in the 1990s. Even if the Iranians have no active program to weaponize fissile material, the impossibility of proving the negative could make disputes inevitable and could create tensions that lead eventually to war.

The question we must decide is whether to take Iran at its word. If we don't and insist on some kind of inspections regime, then the nature of the nuclear agreement itself could be as much of a deal-breaker as whether it is linked to other issues. It will be interesting to see.
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