The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Western governments claim that satellite images show Iran is trying to scrub a site at its Parchin military complex clean of evidence of nuclear weapons experiments. In response, Gareth Porter wrote at IPS on June 8:
The nature of the [alleged evidence of activities] depicted in the images and the circumstances surrounding them suggest, however, that Iran made them to gain leverage in its negotiations with the IAEA rather than to hide past nuclear experiments. … the activities shown in those satellite images … appear to be aimed at prompting the IAEA, the United States and Israel to give greater urgency and importance to a request for an IAEA inspection visit to Parchin.
For example water shown in a satellite image and ostensibly used for cleaning “appears to collect in a ditch a short distance away from the building. … soil that was moved from two areas [but appears] to have been carried only a few hundred feet further north of the former area where it is shown to have been dumped, offering another inviting target for environmental sampling.”
In other words, the so-called sanitizing is a show Iran has been putting on for the benefit of the West. Porter further reports that the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann told him “that he didn’t know whether the changes shown in satellite images were part of a conscious Iranian negotiating strategy.” But, the changes, in effect, “‘increase the interest of the IAEA in an inspection at Parchin as soon as possible and to give Iran more leverage in the negotiations.'”
“Access to Parchin,” Porter explains “has been recognised implicitly by both sides as Iran’s primary leverage in those negotiations.”
Gareth Porter is one of the few — perhaps the lone — analyst striking the note that, besides for nuclear power, Iran enriches uranium as a bargaining chip with the West. Arguably it’s a less hostile strategy than the coercive diplomacy to which the United States reflexively defaults.
With its attempts to lure the West in via its scrub-down show Iran seems to be playing negotiating chess while the West is playing checkers. But, as has been pointed out to me, in the end, it may be immaterial since the West can bring its first down on the whole game, crush the board and scatter the pieces.
Besides, Iran may be cutting it too close. For one thing, the worth of its chips is inflated: Both the West and its regional neighbors think Iran is developing a program that all the evidence suggests it isn’t and over-react accordingly. Worse, Iran’s strategy resembles Saddam Hussein’s before the 2003 invasion. While neither Iran nor Iraq had nuclear weapons, both thought it was to their advantage to leave a seed of doubt in our minds, though for different reasons: Saddam for regional security, Iran as a negotiating ploy to get sanctions suspended and advance its nuclear energy program.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, nature couldn’t abhor a void more. Imagination runs rampant and those with an agenda against the state holding its nuke cards close to the best feel justified in pursuing it to the max.
Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.