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A new approach to Iran's nukes

A loyalty test can reassure Iran and the world.

By Charles D. Ferguson / September 8, 2008


The United States has reached an impasse in trying to stop Iran from proceeding with its nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly ignored UN Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend its uranium enrichment activities that could either fuel peaceful nuclear reactors or military nuclear bombs.

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In recent weeks, Iran's talks with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency have been pretenses that have allowed Iran to move ahead with uranium enrichment with no additional controls on its overall nuclear program.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has tried to ratchet up pressure on Iran with sanctions. And more recently, during the week of the Democratic presidential convention, Sen. Barack Obama reiterated that he is committed to "tightening the screws diplomatically on Iran" if elected.

Even if Iran at times toys with accepting a temporary suspension of its uranium enrichment program, it does not appear to intend to stop this potentially dangerous activity – regardless of sanctions.

Clearly, a new approach is needed to put in place stricter controls on Iran's nuclear program and to respect Iran's right to peaceful nuclear activities.

Tough talk and Iranian defiance have left the world worrying about possible itchy trigger fingers in Israel. The Israeli military could try a replay of the 1981 operation that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor. But this time the odds are stacked against destroying an Iranian nuclear infrastructure that is scattered among more than 20 facilities and has employed thousands of technicians.

The solution? A loyalty test can reassure both sides. Nuclear negotiators need to understand that Iranian leaders want to maintain loyalty to the promise they made to the Iranian public to uphold Iran's right to uranium enrichment. Equally important, Iranian leaders must understand that they need to prove their loyalty to the international legal system in order to preserve the peaceful nature of nuclear programs.

A potential trust-building deal would bind the US and other nuclear energy states to Iran as clients under the condition that Iran accepts more rigorous safeguards on its nuclear program.

The clients would agree to buy Iranian enriched uranium and spent fuel containing plutonium for a competitive price. This would ensure that Iran would not amass a large stockpile of enriched uranium and plutonium but would continually ship this nuclear fuel material to clients.