The headlines that reached the world following recent Iranian nuclear talks in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow before the eve could not have been more misleading: “Iran is ready to resolve nuclear issues.”
The accumulation of historical fact in this very long crisis proves just the opposite: The Iranian regime is bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon, and will take full advantage of diplomacy toward this end if allowed to do so.
Indeed, the Iranian strategy of exploiting diplomacy to further advance the nuclear program is a matter of regime policy.
Iran’s strategy is expressly goal oriented. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who was intimately involved in high-level contacts with Tehran during the crisis’ early years, referred to Iran’s “regional hegemonic aspirations and quest for global prestige” in a May 2006 article in the Washington Post. Fischer reiterated this conviction in an April op-ed published by Project Syndicate: With the benefit of historical perspective, he emphasized a belief among “influential” Iranians that the “status quo can be changed to install Iran as the region’s hegemonic power.”
It should be recalled that Iran, certain of its goal from the outset, had every intention of completing its military nuclear program under the cloak of secrecy. After close to two decades of clandestine activity, this plan went awry when an Iranian opposition group exposed Tehran’s illicit nuclear activity in Natanz and Arak in August 2002.
The main question that negotiators asked themselves way back at the start of the crisis is still being asked: Can diplomacy alone convince Iran that the benefits of compliance with international demands outweigh those of defiance?
With this question in mind, in both October 2003 and November 2004 the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK hammered out agreements they hoped would resolve the crisis. In a pattern that was to recur throughout, Tehran reneged both times on its commitment to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
That the Iranians had exploited the agreements to move their nuclear program forward could have been guessed; later on they publicly admitted it.
Hassan Rohani exposed Tehran’s strategy in late 2004 while still secretary of Iran’s National Security Council and head of its nuclear portfolio. In a speech to the Iranian parliament, Rohani – Fischer’s negotiating counterpart – admitted that Iran took advantage of these agreements to advance the uranium enrichment process, assemble centrifuges and manufacture their parts.
Back then few believed Iran was bent on developing a nuclear weapon. Today few doubt it still is – a consensus firmly supported by the findings of the IAEA, the world’s recognized authority on the matter.
Determined to saber rattle, bully and create fear, the Iranian regime has promised post-Istanbul that a deal can be done “very quickly and simply” – on its own terms, no doubt. Such is Tehran’s track record throughout the nuclear crisis.
Benefiting from historical hindsight, those who prepare to sit across the table from their Iranian counterparts again this week in Moscow know that the regime’s primary motive is to use diplomacy to gain time, lift sanctions, gain legitimacy for its nuclear weapons program and to advance it further. Tehran’s representatives come to Baghdad not to resolve the nuclear crisis, but rather to ensure its continuation.
This knowledge is the international community’s strength, why it still has the ability to stop the Iranian military nuclear program through diplomatic and other means – despite Tehran’s determination to acquire the bomb. The international community would still like to see diplomacy succeed – but cannot ignore that time is critical and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.
Meir Shlomo is the current ambassador and consul general of Israel to the Southwest, located in Houston.