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U.N. watchdog IAEA asks for patience in Iran

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Striking a deal Nov. 23, 2013 with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, the P5+1, including the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany, expressed hope that past differences could be put aside ending brutal sanctions that have damaged the Iranian economy. Chief U.N. inspector Tero Varjaoranta shared some recent progress over Feb. 8-9 talks in Tehran to open up clandestine nuclear sites finally ending speculation about about Iran’s suspected A-bomb program. After defiantly enriching uranium for years, thumbing their nose at U.N. inspections, Iran’s 65-year-old President Hassan Rouhani signaled Iran’s willingness to return to a normal U.N. inspection routine, allaying doubts about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “There are still a lot of outstanding issues,” Varjoranta told reporters in Vienna. “We will address them all in due course,” expressing renewed optimism.

Since former Iranian President Ahmed Ahmadinejad declared Iran a “nuclear state” Feb. 11, 2010, the U.N. continued draconic sanctions, freezing billions in Iranian assets and banning energy sales to U.N.-member states. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared May 18, 2009 an “existential threat,” putting heat on the U.S. and U.N. to continue pressuring Iran to submit to U.N. inspections. Netanyahu’s views on Iran’s nuclear program stemmed from a speech Ahmadinejad gave Oct. 27, 2005 at a “World Without Zionism” conference in which he, like the late Ayatollah Khomenei, called for Israel “to be wiped off the map.” Since then, Netanyahu has showed zero tolerance for Iran’s nuclear program, often accusing Tehran of pursuing an A-bomb. While Tehran has rejected Netanyahu’s claims, they haven’t submitted to verified U.N. inspections for years.

Former President George W. Bush kept all options on the table with Iran but did nothing other than back U.N. sanctions. Netanyahu pressed President Barack Obama to make good on his promise to not let Tehran to get the bomb. Given the skepticism that lingers of faulty U.S. intel on Iraq about Saddam Hussein’s alleged nuclear, biologic and chemical weapons, Obama hasn’t been too interested in press the U.S. into another Mideast military adventure. “We have never sought weapons of mass destruction. We don’t want nuclear know-how for war, as some countries do,” said Rouhani in Tehran, alluding to the U.S. and Israeli accusations. Because of Bush’s faulty allegations about Saddam, Obama doesn’t want to repeat past mistakes, believing the Mossad or any other intel service. Bush’s White House, especially VP Dick Cheney, believed whatever intel confirmed his plans.

Regardless of charges-and-countercharges on both sides, it’s better to engage Iran in dialogue than to follow Netnayahu’s approach and break off relations. With the largest Iranian ex-pat community in the world living in Los Angeles, Iran has a vested interest in restoring diplomatic relations with the West, especially the U.S. “Continued progress on resolving PMD [possible military dimensions] will go a long way to demonstrate to the international community that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and will to come clean about its past activities,” said Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Assn. Many Western groups conjecture about Iran’s military ambitions because they’re unwilling to submit to U.N. inspections. Saddam also refused to U.N. inspections and had no arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the reason cited by the Bush White House to go to war in Iraq.

Resolving the issue of why Iran needed bomb-making components like “exploding bridge wire detonators” should help ally Western concerns about Iran’s suspected A-bomb-making program. Iran has faced over the years accusations that it was pursuing highly enriched uranium, test explosives and work on a missile cone, all giving Netanyahu something to think about. Israel still believes that Iran’s secret Parchin military facility holds evidence of Iran’s A-bomb work. Whether that’s true or not, Iran’s more engaged in the U.N. inspection process than recent years, making it more accountable to the international community. Insisting that Iran continues to deceive Western powers to gains sanctions relief gives U.N. inspectors little credit of eventually getting to the bottom of Iran nuclear work Submitting for some U.N. monitoring is better than no monitoring at all.

Israel’s Netanyahu needs to reconsider his worst-case fears about Iran posing an “existential” threat to Israel. With or without nuclear weapons, Iran faces the same Mutually Assured Destruction deterrence as any other nuclear or non-nuclear power. If Iranian officials take national pride in Iran’s nuclear program, it’s entirely understandable for a developing country. “Since November everything has gone as planned,” said IAEA’s Varjoranta, pleased with Iran’s cooperation to date. Tossing cold water on the process, making more unproven accusations and saber rattling does little to promote renewed bilateral relations. Whether or not Iran’s serious, as Varjoranta says, will reveal itself over time. When you look at today’s progress, Iran’s shown a willingness to engage the process, opening the door for future cooperation, something that can only reduce the prospects of war.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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