Opening a Gateway to a Nuclear-Armed Middle East

by Benjamin Weinthal

The Obama administration is inching toward a deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran to temporarily curtail some elements of its illicit nuclear program.

According to reports from Geneva today, the Iranians out-negotiated the U.S. State Department on a core U.N. Security Council demand; namely, that Iran is obligated to stop enriching uranium. Reuters reported one Western diplomat saying, “If you speak about the right to a peaceful nuclear program that’s open to interpretation.”

That likely spells a deliberately nebulous clause to allow Iran to continue enriching weapons-grade uranium.

All of this helps to explain why experts see the potential agreement as feeble and leading to nuclear proliferation. Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said, “If you can’t enforce this kind of simple thing, what’s the meaning of the Security Council?”

Former secretary of state George P. Schultz provided the BBC with a great deal of wisdom about the regime in Tehran. The Iranians are experienced at “smiling, encouraging you on and then cutting your throat,” said Schultz. He added that Iran’s regime is the “biggest supporter of terrorism in the world,” citing Iran’s aid to the Lebanese terrorist movement Hezbollah. Schultz is arguably one of America’s greatest negotiators.

Seeing the weakness of the Obama administration and the growing strength of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Middle East countries are likely to pursue their own nuclear-weapons programs to blunt Iranian aggression in the region. Heinonen, the nuclear-proliferation expert, bluntly said, “Other countries will do the same” if there is no eradication of nuclear enrichment in Iran.

Obama’s pledge to create the “security of a world without nuclear weapons” may very well result in a planet with new nuclear-armed countries in the most volatile region.

Saudi Arabia is in a state of panic over Iran’s nuclear-weapons progress. As a form of existential insurance against its cold-war enemy Iran—and the loss of America as a reliable ally – Saudi Arabia reportedly is slated to receive nuclear weapons from Pakistan. It is extremely conceivable that Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and the small Gulf monarchies will replicate Saudi Arabia’s choice to obtain nuclear arms to defend their interests against the jingoism of Iran’s rulers.

It is still unclear if the world powers can stop Iran’s second avenue to nuclear weapons. The Iranians are feverishly working on the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor. The plant will allow Iran to use plutonium for a nuclear-weapons device. Arak appears to be the remaining sticking point in the current talks. Put simply, the Obama administration is on the verge of opening the gateway to a world filled with more instability and nuclear arms.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

The Corner

The one and only.