David Sanger of the New York Times gets the scoop– that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sent the White House a memo last January observing that the US has no real developed policy for dealing with Iran should Tehran achieve ‘nuclear latency’ (where a country has the ability to construct a nuclear weapon but stops short of doing so, in order to avoid international sanctions and disapproval.
Ironically, the take-away from this article is that Gates concurs with those analysts (such as Juan Cole) that Iran does not intend actually to build a bomb, but wants the technical know-how to do so as a way of deterring foreign invasions and attacks.
Gates also worries about how we would know it if Iran suddenly decided to move from latency to actually constructing a warhead. Actually, I think that is not so hard to know. They can’t make a weapon at Natanz or Fardo as long as they are being inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. So one sign would be (as with North Korea) that they kick out the inspectors and decline further international scrutiny. If they tried to develop a weapons program elsewhere, it would need a lot of water and electricity and materiel, which should show up on satellite or other surveillance instruments. Moreover, the US program to entice defectors from among Iran’s nuclear scientists appears to be having some success, and these insiders should be able to clarify things.
Anyway, short of a land invasion and forcible regime change, I doubt there is anything practical the US can do about Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Economic sanctions will not stop it, and even a bombing raid would only set it back. As long as Tehran does not in fact go for broke in trying to get a bomb, moreover, it is mysterious to me why Washington is consumed with this issue.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, gave a speech on Saturday in which he lambasted the United States for having been the only nation to deploy a nuclear weapon, and that against hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, something he said Islamic law would have forbidden. [The full text in USG translation is below– scroll down). He also challenged the US credentials to serve as a policeman against proliferation, given US complicity in or complaisance toward the Israeli development of a nuclear arsenal.
Khamenei urges complete disarmament, observing that it is obvious that in a world with stockpiles of nuclear warheads, “there remained no doubt that victory in a nuclear war would be impossible and that engagement in such a war would be an unwise and anti-human act.” He adds that “The insistence of these governments on the possession and proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as increasing their destructive power — which are useless except for intimidation and massacre and a false sense of security based on pre-emptive power resulting from guaranteed annihilation of everyone — has led to an enduring nuclear nightmare in the world.” The arms race, Khamenei insists, is a fool’s game, since the nuclear powers are hastening to acquire the ability to destroy their enemy a thousand times over. I.e. it is epochal over-kill. He repeated his fatwa against the use and even the threatened us of such weapons of mass destruction, which he calls absolutely religiously forbidden (haram) in Islamic law.
An American audience just assumes that Khamenei is just lying and they feel (with some justification) that he is simply engaged in anti-American propaganda, and so he words fall on deaf ears here. But in much of the world, Khamenei’s speech will be taken as devastating to the US position. Countering such Iranian talking points is part of the rationale behind President Obama’s negotiations with Russia to reduce the stockpiles of the two countries. Obama is thereby making an argument, as well, to the international community that the US does have standing to complain about Iran, since it is taking concrete steps (contrary to what Khamenei alleges) to ameliorate the situation.