(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/04/barack-obama-benjamin-netanyahu-00c3d117082e8251.gif)On Sunday the Washington Post published an article that seems to further validate those who believe the Obama administration is running a campaign of leaks aimed at stopping Israel from attacking Iran.
Called “U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence,” the article cites “officials” saying that “expanded intelligence collection has reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb….”
Authors Joby Warrick and Greg Miller mention a “covert campaign by the CIA and other agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program” and quote a “senior U.S. official” who claims “there is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision [to build a nuclear bomb] had been made.”
The article does include some qualifications, mentioning officials who “conceded that aspects of Iran’s nuclear decision-making remain opaque” as well as “the chastening experience of Iraq.” But its main thrust is that “Israeli officials [who] have pushed for a more aggressive response” are jumping the gun, with “White House officials contend[ing] that…it would take Iran at least a year to [build a nuclear weapon] if it were to launch a crash program now.”
Here it should be noted that this sanguinity clashes with statements just a month ago by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, who warned that Iran had tripled its production of higher-enriched uranium since November and was again denying the IAEA access to Parchin—a site where Iran had done tests that the IAEA considered “strong indicators” of developing a bomb.
Meanwhile, also on Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece suggesting that Washington is somewhat closer to Israeli perceptions. Regarding the new round of negotiations the P5 + 1 countries are supposed to launch with Iran on Friday, David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger cite “American and European diplomats” who say the “Obama administration and its European allies plan to…demand…the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of Iran’s deep-underground Fordo enrichment facility,” which Israel has emphasized as a particularly troubling development.
According to Sanger and Erlanger, Obama and the Europeans are also “calling for a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country….”
That seems to dovetail with Obama’s reported message to Iran that the upcoming talks are a last opportunity for a peaceful solution.
The Western allies are even, the Times says, looking to leverage Israel’s warnings—“gambling that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action” will bolster Iranians who prefer a negotiated settlement.
The article also cites officials who are worried that “Iran may have worked on warhead designs and nuclear triggers” and that “the Russians and the Chinese are trying to water down the sanctions”—and offers a further spicy tidbit:
European allies, especially the French and the British, say they are concerned that Mr. Obama will want to keep the negotiations going, however unproductive they might be, through the November presidential election to avoid the possibility of a military strike if the talks fail.
Israel and some European leaders fear that would play into what they perceive as Iran’s strategy to use the talks to buy time while its centrifuges keep spinning.
The two leading U.S. papers, then, giving contrasting views. The Post portrays an administration that is essentially complacent; the Times depicts an administration that is leaning more toward an Israeli-like sense of urgency—though some still have serious doubts about that.
Tehran, for its part, reacted quickly to the Times article by “saying it will neither close…Fordo…nor give up higher uranium enrichment,” denouncing such demands as “irrational.”
The upshot is that a moment of truth is approaching. If Obama indeed lets Iran string the talks along and lets Russia and China (members of the P5 + 1 along with the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany) shield it from any decisive consequences, those who take a dim view of his seriousness on the issue will be vindicated once and for all. Israel will, then, face a harrowing situation of watching Iran inch closer and closer to nukes while “peace talks” drag on.
The only other possibility is that the talks will break down more or less quickly without results. But while Obama will probably then react by tightening the sanctions, that can still be a way of coasting through to November if the sanctions—as is close to certain—still don’t get Iran to stop its program. In that case Israel would, however, be freer to act.
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