Iran’s PressTV summarized Obama’s remarks in France about Iranian nuclear plans in a way that seems to offer highly pointed and reasonable hints about ways to achieve a nuclear accommodation with the West:
Obama also spoke after the meeting only to call Iran‘s possible possession of nuclear weapons a profound danger for the entire world. “We can’t afford a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
The American president however failed to mention the sixth-largest nuclear power in the world, Israel which is the sole possessor of an atomic arsenal in the Middle East and has at least 100 bunker-buster bombs.
Tel Aviv is not a signatory to the NPT and pursues a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’, according to which it neither admits nor denies the dimensions of its nuclear activities.
Come to think of it, isn’t “strategic ambiguity” exactly the policy being pursued by Iran?
Others may wish to comment on whether or not the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prohibits “strategic ambiguity.” Whatever one’s interpretation of the treaty, to castigate Iran for pursuing such a policy as a signer while encouraging Israel to pursue it as a non-signer only weakens the international non-proliferation regime. More to the point for the immediate issue of how Washington and Tehran are to reach accommodation on the nuclear issue, this report is providing a hint that Washington policy-makers should think about. Might there be a way to attach various conditions to a formal position of “strategic ambiguity” so as to create an evolutionary process toward an ultimate non-nuclear status that could encompass both countries that almost certainly do and also countries that almost certainly do not? Might the international community be able to devise positive and negative incentives to encourage evolution in the desired direction while tolerating a long-term period of “ambiguity?”
The Iranian report’s coupling of the nuclear issue with the highly controversial provision to Israel of the highly threatening and destabilizing bunker-buster bombs offers a second hint. The more potent non-nuclear weapons become, the more sense it makes to create a concept in international law of a weapons class defined by its potency that should be subject to international control. Nuclear weapons would then become only one example of the class. Indeed, the term “weapons of mass destruction” gets at precisely this conceptualization.
Once this concept is accepted, then it may become easier to negotiate reasonable compromises based on the question, “Are the truly dangerous offensive weapons of each side balanced so as to provide reasonable security to each side?” When this becomes the focus of negotiations, the door opens to a host of rational trade-offs. Iran might be willing to offer significant increased transparency in return for Israel returning its bunker-busters to the U.S. or putting them under an international inspections regime analogous to the international nuclear inspections regime requested of Iran. Putting the bunker-busters on the table (or just telling Israel their immediate return would be appreciated) would also put some meat on the flowery sentiments Obama expressed in Cairo.
The IAEA has just reported that there are no indications of covert diversion of Iran’s nuclear program toward militarization, but that because of the increased pace of Iran’s program, “improvements to the containment and surveillance measures are required in order for the agency to continue to fully meet its safeguards objectives.”