Iran and the P5+1—the Permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany—meet in Kazakhstan on February 26 for further talks over Iran’s nuclear program. Don’t expect any progress. Iran’s next presidential election is in June and the powers that be will give no credit to outgoing President Ahmadinejad.
But there is a more fundamental reason for pessimism. Iran has effectively managed the punishments visited upon them and is winning the “long war” with the United States. They have little incentive to make a deal. Look at the facts. Iran has developed a sophisticated nuclear program. It has adapted to the sanctions. It has benefitted from the new regimes in Arab countries after their “Spring.”
One strategy Iran has adopted comes from an old story about how to deal with a charging bull. One idea is to leap over the hurtling beast. Another is to sidestep it to avoid a collision. But the most effective way to deal with the bull is to throw sand in its eyes. Iran is a master at throwing sand in the eyes of the P5+1—on the matter of its nuclear program and their sanctions. Talking tough. Making slight concessions. But always focused on the expansion of its nuclear work.
Here is some of the latest news.
*Intelligence sources reveal that in 2012 Iran tried to obtain 100,000 ring shaped magnets from China. The magnets are used in centrifuges and are forbidden by U.N. sanctions. But the number suggests that Iran contemplates a major expansion of its installed enrichment capacity. It is not known whether the magnets were delivered.
- Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had begun to install a new generation of centrifuges—IR-2m—in its Natanz enrichment center. (Its current centrifuges are known as P-1 because their design was bought from Pakistan. The new designation implies an Iranian design.) The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency said the new centrifuges were to enrich uranium only to the 5% level. Their installation in Natanz, rather than Fordow, is also noteworthy. Unlike Fordow, the underground centrifuges in Natanz are believed to be vulnerable to American bunker buster bombs.
- The head of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, in response to reports that the West would lift sanctions if Iran closed Fordow, said, “Fordow will never be shut down because … our national duty is to be able to defend our nuclear and vital centers against an enemy threat.”
- Iran has once again denied the IAEA a visit to its Parchin military site where, many believe, Iran experimented with triggers for nuclear weapons.
- Iran’s leading nuclear scientist is believed to have traveled to North Korea to witness that country’s recent nuclear test. It is believed by Western intelligence services that the test was designed to create a warhead small enough to go on the top of a missile.
- Iran has also announced that it is converting some of its 20 percent enriched uranium into reactor fuel. How much is not known. Once it is converted to reactor fuel, it cannot be used as bomb material. Reducing the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium—it’s the 20% that Israel and many in the U.S. fear could be used for a dash to the enrichment level necessary to build a bomb—reduces the Iranian stockpile and that threat.
- On February 16, the ‘Supreme Leader,’ Ayatollah Khamene’i, declared that Iran had decided not to build a nuclear weapon and called nuclear weapons “a crime against humanity.”
The Iranians are masters at throwing sand in the eyes of the charging bull. The bull is confused. Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program becomes more sophisticated and more worrying.
Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus at Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago and can be reached at Marvin.Zonis@ChicagoBooth.edu.