The Iranian nuclear standoff is akin to a snowball tumbling down a hillside, ballooning with every roll of rhetoric. What’s clear is this: Iran will not halt nuclear enrichment as a perceived national right to nuclear power, no matter how much the U.S. ramps up the rhetoric and threats - or the UN its sanctions.
Not even negotiations will stop Iran on its pathway into the nuclear club. All the West can do is try minimizing the risk of nuclear weapons development.
But how? I’ll return to this point in a moment.
Only a few weeks ago, after the first U.N. sanctions were leveled, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took great pleasure in announcing that Iran's enrichment had proceeded to "an industrial scale." The E.U., Australia, France and Russia, have cast doubt about the claim. But the likelihood of increased U.N. sanctions and the probable American response are merely increasing Iranian determination.
Faced with the likelihood of American military action, Iran has only hinted that it may suspend its enrichment program to allow negotiations to be conducted in good faith. To this day, nobody knows whether Iran speaks the truth when saying the nuclear program is for civilian power purposes only. However, given hard-liner Ahmadinejad's world view - specifically his rhetoric of wiping Israel off the map, their regional tussle for hegemony, and Israel's sizeable nuclear arsenal - I’m forced to admit that if Iran's enrichment does reach an "industrial level", an Iranian nuclear bomb may be less than a year away.
This changes nothing. Iran's enrichment cannot be halted by the current Western approach, whether a weapons program exists or not. According to many analysts, even air strikes only delay the process, and in doing so would guarantee Iran's resurgent nuclear program focuses on developing weapons.
An invasion may succeed. At their recent meeting the UN put the military option on the table, but given conditions in Iraq, it’s unlikely that anybody would willingly send their forces there. Probably the U.S. would have to go it alone again. But the U.S. military is already overstretched, and given Hezbollah's skinning of Israel's nose in their summer war in Lebanon, the U.S. faces the humiliation of an Iranian defeat in addition to fierce domestic opposition.
So, what should be done? The first thing is removing the precondition for talks. As Iran's Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, told the ISNA news agency: "We have a superior position. We have passed the stage of setting conditions for talks. We believe that other parties should move forward based on new realities."