Matthew Kennedy
Vail, CO, Colorado

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April 15, 2013
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Vail Valley Voices: Never mind North Korea; it's Iran we should worry about

North Korea's ongoing bellicosity overshadowed an equally important event: the P5+1 talks. The term defines the diplomatic negotiations between the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

It was the second time this year the negotiators met. The talks produced the same results as the past couple of years: an offer of possibly reducing economic sanctions against Iran in reciprocation for Tehran's abandonment of its uranium enrichment program, a proposal Iran declined.

Iran's nuclear program is complex issue. The chances are very high that several results will occur:

o The P5+1 discussions will not lead to any major changes in Iran's nuclear program.

o Washington, Paris and London will enhance existing economic and energy sanctions directed toward Iran's nuclear program

o Moscow and Beijing will negate the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council resolutions addressing Tehran's nuclear activities.

o An Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities will have broad strategic consequences, if initiated.

o The future of Iran's nuclear program probably rests with its internal politics.

Tehran's uranium enrichment program is the prime controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear activities. The principle reason for uranium enrichment is nuclear weapons development.

Tehran contends these activities are for medical purposes. What is puzzling is why Iran refuses to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency complete access to its enrichment facilities to vindicate Tehran's assertion.

The question was poised to a classmate who is an Iranian diplomat working on the issue. He didn't have an answer.

Washington, many Europeans, Moscow and Beijing are worried about Iran's nuclear program for different reasons.

The United States and Europeans are concerned Tehran will develop nuclear weapons and furnish those munitions to Iran's prime terrorist proxy, Hezbollah.

Russia's fear is Iran's nuclear activities will heighten instability along Moscow's southern borders.

And China is worried about losing access to the Middle East's energy resources resulting from any regional volatility instigated by Iran's nuclear activities.

The United Nations passed several economic and energy sanctions aimed at enticing Iran to end its nuclear program. The sanctions are crippling Iran's economy, but haven't dissuaded Tehran from pursuing uranium enrichment.

A strong possibility is Iran's uranium enrichment activities may end if China and Russia fully comply with the U.N. sanctions.

A conundrum for Moscow and Beijing is that both have commercial and energy interests in Iran. Observance of the U.N. sanctions could cost Russian and Chinese commercial entities millions of dollars in revenue. It might also prohibit Beijing from accessing vital energy sources.

The crisis' turning point could transpire if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities. Washington, Tel Aviv and Tehran are engaged in a covert war over the issue.

The shadow altercation has included computer virus attacks against Iran's nuclear facilities and assassinations of Iranian scientists and diplomats. Tel Aviv is worried that Tehran will attack Israel if Iran develops nuclear weapons.

Israel has spoken about attacking Iran's nuclear facilities since 2008 at least. Such an operation would face several logistical and intelligence obstacles. Any operation would mandate U.S. assistance, since Israel lacks a necessary air-refueling and munitions capability vital for a long-range air strike and solid intelligence pinpointing the precise locations of Iran's key nuclear processing and enrichment sites.

An Israeli attack would have strategic consequences for the United States, Middle East, and global economy. Iran could activate dormant Hezbollah cells in the United States and Europe. Tehran's military forces might assault Iraq- and Afghanistan-based American military units.

The ensuing instability may increase oil prices, thus stalling the global economic recovery. The final repercussion is it would probably set back Washington's diplomatic clout by several years even if the United States didn't participate in an attack.

The status of Tehran's uranium enrichment activities most likely is contingent upon Iran's internal affairs. The U.N. sanctions are placing a severe strain on Iran's economy. This almost resulted in the collapse of Iran's currency and has increased the nation's unemployment.

Iran's electorate is evenly divided over Tehran's nuclear program despite the financial hardships. An Israeli attack would probably increase the Iranian electorate's support for Tehran's nuclear activities.

The most probable scenario for any change in the program's direction is via the country's political process. Tehran will insist on maintaining its enrichment program if a hardliner is elected. It might be the opposite with a reformer.

Iran's nuclear program presents a serious strategic problem for the United States, its European allies, and the Middle East. The issue will probably be resolved when the Iranians or one of the P5 members capitulates (albeit privately and not publicly). It will most likely involve the abandonment - or significant verifiable curtailment - of Tehran's uranium enrichment program in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions and/or meeting Iran's energy needs via some unthought-of solution.

Matthew Kennedy has a master's degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He's lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 15, 2013 06:22PM Published Apr 15, 2013 06:21PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.