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Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture

Last update - Sunday, December 1, 2013, 17:42 By Charles Laffiteau

Given the recent nuclear freeze agreement between the ‘E3+3’ and Iran, I want to pivot from my discussion from the Tea Party extremists here in the US to providing you with some background and analysis of this extremely significant nuclear proliferation issue.

Why is this so important? Because I firmly believe stopping Iran from developing a nuclear bomb is the key to keeping such weapons out of the politically volatile Middle East. Granted, and even though they have never confirmed this, Israel is a Middle Eastern nation that also has approximately 150 nuclear weapons. But since Israel didn’t use its nuclear artillery shells and bombs to defend themselves against Arab forces during the early days of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, I have some confidence they will probably never launch a nuclear attack.
I do not have the same level of confidence as regards the offensive use of nuclear weapons by other countries in the Middle East. Mind you, I’m not saying that any of the current Middle East governments (including Iran) would ever initiate a nuclear attack on another country. Rather, my more immediate concern is centred on what could happen if any country’s nuclear weapons, or the plutonium used to make them, ever fell into the hands of terrorists. In the longer term I also continue to worry about what could happen if a politically unstable country like Pakistan ever lost control over some portion of its nuclear arsenal.
While the US is rightly concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its belligerent behaviour, their dozen or so low-level nuclear devices do not pose much of a real threat to neighbours Japan or South Korea. A bigger concern is North Korea’s history of helping other nations develop their own nuclear weapons, and sponsorship of terrorist groups. Indeed the number-one fear of American security officials is the very real possibility that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda may one day either buy or steal enough plutonium to create a ‘dirty bomb’.
Fortunately for us, the only terrorists who have successfully acquired such materials are the ones on TV or in the movies. That’s due to the fact that all of the nations that currently possess nuclear weapons have also put in place strict protocols that govern not only who has access to and control of these devices, but also where and how these weapons are stored. However, I also seriously doubt the world’s ‘luck’ will continue to hold if three or four more countries decide to join the world’s nuclear club.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I firmly believe that if Iran succeeds in building a nuclear bomb, other Middle Eastern countries will do so, too. The Syrian civil war has devolved into a proxy war between Shi’ite Muslims in Iran and Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia, so if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, you better believe Saudi Arabia will be working on their own. And since Egypt and Turkey have the Middle East’s second and third largest Sunni Arab populations, I believe their military leaders and civilian governments will probably follow suit.
A Middle East where Iran could launch nuclear missiles at Jerusalem and Riyadh from a distance of less than 1,000 miles is both Israel and Saudi Arabia’s worst nightmare. That explains why these two countries, that make no secret of their dislike for each other, were so quick to condemn the nuclear freeze agreement brokered by their mutual ally the United States. Maybe it also shows there’s some truth to the old Arab proverb that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.
Yet critics of the deal, who claim it relieves too much of the pressure on Iran, are either deluded in their assessments of Iran’s internal politics, or are guilty of playing politics by pandering to domestic political audiences. After a decade of resisting western-led pressure, it is sheer nonsense for anyone to claim that a further tightening of economic sanctions is the only thing that will cause Iran to capitulate and halt Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.
While it remains to be seen if the six-month freeze will lead to a more inclusive nuclear deal, I believe this interim agreement was essential in order for Iran and the E3+3 nations to develop the trust needed to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear pact. Moreover, while it appears that this deal came together rather quickly in just a matter of weeks, the truth is that the agreement was actually the culmination of several months of secret US and Iran negotiations.
Unbeknownst to Israel and his E3+3 partners, President Obama took a big political gamble and personally authorised a series of secret talks in Muscat, Oman with Iranian officials. The first meetings in March were get-to-know-you sessions designed to underscore how serious the United States was about brokering a deal. The other four sets of meetings were then held in Oman after Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani took office in August. Unlike the initial meetings in March, the next two secret meetings in August, as well as two more in October, were designed to strike precisely the kind of agreement that the E3+3 just negotiated with Iran.
President Obama angered both Israel and France by not telling them about the secret negotiations with Iran until he was confident we had a deal in place. Next time I’ll discuss the individuals who were privy, and indeed invaluable, to the now no-longer-secret pact.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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