Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Son Of NIE
Egypt, which announced in October that it would dust off plans to build several civilian nuclear reactors, just announced that it would sign no further agreements to expand its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What that means is that it will not submit to intrusive, short-notice IAEA inspections under a voluntary Additional Protocol even after it has mastered the nuclear fuel-enrichment cycle. These inspections remain the principle means to ensure that a country is not secretly developing a weapons component with dual-use technology, by allowing the IAEA to inspect not only declared nuclear activity, but to verify there is no undeclared activity going on as well.
Now the title of this post is perhaps a bit inflammatory, but I don't think the timing of Egypt's announcement is a coincidence. And it won't be the last announcement of its kind should Iran be allowed to backslide across the nuclear finish line without ever fully complying with its NPT obligations (including an Additional Protocol that it signed). Remember, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Libya are already queued up and waiting for clearance on the nuclear runway, with others sure to follow.
As for Kevin Drum's and Matthew Yglesias' speculation that the third round of UN sanctions might have been facilitated by the release of the NIE, in the course of researching an article today I spoke with someone in a position to know who left no doubt that whatever watered-down sanctions they manage to wrangle out of the Russians and Chinese, it will be very much in spite of, and not thanks to, the NIE. China, for instance, just came up with two billion reasons to be less than enthusiastic about putting any more trade restrictions on Iran, so the case for sanctions was already a tough one to make before the NIE significantly downgraded the threat level.
Once more, I'll reiterate my belief that a unilateral strike against Iran would have been disastrous. While the NIE seems to have ruled out such a disaster, it has made another one -- a non-NPT-compliant nuclear Iran and the impact it will have on the region -- more difficult to head off.
On the other hand, one thing the NIE does do is give everyone some time to really think through their options. After all, Iran's nuclear program can still be brought into compliance, and Egypt's is at least 15-20 years off. What's more, given the lame duck status of the Bush administration and the need for clarification in Tehran's internal factional divisions, for any resolution to be durable it will have to be reached in the early years of the next Presidential term. It's essential to take advantage of that window of opportunity to develop a coherent and unifying approach, not just to Iran's nuclear ambitions, but to those of the entire region.