Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Iranian-targets officer in the CIA’s Clandestine Service is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mark Dubowitz is the foundation’s executive director and heads its project on Iran sanctions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is lying when he says the Islamic Republic has never had any intention of building an atomic weapon. Defecting Iranian nuclear engineers told U.S. officials in the late 1980s that the mullahs’ program, then hidden, was designed exclusively for such arms. Everything Western intelligence services have tracked since then matches those early revelations.
U.S. participation in the upcoming negotiations doesn’t appear to be premised on an expectation of Iranian veracity. If it were, President Obama wouldn’t send his secretary of state until Tehran had come clean about its past deceits. The exemplary behavior of South Africa’s often-mendacious apartheid government when it decided to go non-nuclear — total transparency about the militarization of its atomic program — isn’t expected from Iran. The clerical regime has already dropped the bar through its “facts on the ground” intransigence: more than 19,000 centrifuges built and a heavy-water plant nearing completion. Washington doesn’t want to go to war again in the Middle East, and the Iranians know it.
The administration and Congress are gambling that sanctions will be enough to overcome the regime’s chronic dishonesty. Economic pain will be so intense, the theory holds, that eventually Tehran will play by Western rules.
In other words, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards and Rouhani — who had a not-insignificant role in developing Iran’s nuclear program in the 1990s — would be willing to admit that “evil incarnate” (Khamenei’s update to the “Great Satan”), against which the Islamic Republic’s very identity has been built, has defeated their nuclear aspirations.
Every country has an economic breaking point. But achieving that moment in the Islamic Republic will be extraordinarily difficult because such compromise is tantamount to spiritual suicide.
U.S. foreign policy elites play down or ignore God’s role in foreign affairs since the divine has no part in the U.S. worldview. In Western media, Rouhani is a “pragmatist,” as was his mentor Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former major-domo of the political clergy; and as was Khamenei before he backed the election of populist firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005. All of these men have been critical to Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. All, even Ahmadinejad, have been politically pragmatic. This doesn’t make them less religious, less anti-American or averse to viewing terrorism as both statecraft and soulcraft.
Iranian leaders probably are entering these negotiations for one reason: to test Barack Obama’s mettle. They want to see whether Tehran can have the bomb and sanctions relief. The strategy for doing so isn’t complicated. The regime could suspend work at the Arak heavy-water facility, the regime’s plutonium path to a bomb, and stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, the big step in processing it to weapons-grade. But without a verifiable end to centrifuge production, the regime could continue to manufacture centrifuges, shrinking the time required to convert unprocessed uranium to bomb-grade stock. With enough advanced centrifuges, a 20 percent stockpile becomes operationally much less relevant given the increased speed of processing.