Why Ahmadinejad already benefits from the bomb
Published in “Die Zeit” on October 5, 2009
Because of tensions inside the country, Tehran seeks to gain some reliefs in their foreign politics. The regime suddenly shows willingness to negotiate the nuclear issue.
It has been a good week for Western diplomats. The nuclear dispute with the Islamic Republic has moved forward: for the first time in three decades, chief negotiators of the United States and Iran in Geneva talked face to face in a core group meeting. Since then, the spirits are rising. In an almost euphoric mood, the parties reassure each other that they will open a new chapter in the history of cooperation. A vision of a new era of transparency, cooperation and mutual trust is being projected, and in recent speeches, the long-held skepticism about the regime and its nuclear plans is merely mentioned in side remarks.
Almost forgotten seems the fact that Iran has only recently given up its latest, so far unprecedented nuclear deception maneuver, and reported the second uranium enrichment site to the IAEO in Vienna for the plain reason that the revelation of the site was in store anway. Only a week ago, Iran with ostentation has been testing medium range missiles. Meanwhile, the suppression of the opposition, the show trials, and the torture of political opponents in the prisons continue unabatedly.
In the streets, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the help of intelligence agents and the Revolutionary Guards have meanwhile re-established quiet and order. However, this has not restored the legitimacy of the regime in the eyes of the political class, nor has people’s indignation about the electoral fraud in the presidential elections of June 12 calmed down.
Paralysis has taken over in domestic politics, the leadership is marking time. The majority of the population is kept in check by force, the pro-government camp is tuned in line by alternating speeches of devotion and threat. No wonder then, that in this situation Ahmadinejad is in need of some relief on his foreign policy agenda. For the first time he has signaled his willingness to compromise about the main conflict, the nuclear issue – whether generally or just temporarily, so far nobody knows.
By taking a nuclear break, though, Tehran would not unhand any substantial ground. Technological progress can not be simply turned back or cancelled by diplomacy. For four decades, Iran has been paving the way towards the threshold of being a nuclear power. One reactor is ready, the uranium centrifuges are at work, scientists are qualified and trained. Important experiments have been documented, apparently to the extent of how to design nuclear missile warheads. If we believe the evaluation of the ever-cautious IAEA, Tehran now even has the know-how to construct a primitive nuclear bomb with enriched uranium.
At this point, Ahmadinejad presents himself as the toughest defender of Iran’s nuclear rights and, at the same time, as the only effective supplier of political concessions. Anyone who wants concessions from Iran, thus his message, would have to recognize him, the controversial figure, and rehabilitate his reputation. The international community, though, is now facing a new dilemma in addition to the previous one: When they engage in negotiations with Ahmadinejad, they at the same time declare him the winner of Iran’s domestic struggle for power.