Sunday, March 05, 2006

When Will The Bomb Come?

The issue of the Iranian nuclear ambitions will back on the top of the international agenda the next few days.

On Monday, the Governing Board of the International Atomic Energy Authority meets in Vienna to consider the issue.

There seems little doubt that there will be some sort of referral of the issue to the UN Security Council. Different Iranian initiatives at talks in both Moscow and Brussels do not seem to have achieved enough of progress. The international community stays with the red lines it has indicated.

But once in New York, progress on the dossier will be deliberately slow.

And there isn't really that much of a rush. There are no real sign that the Iranians are moving forward particularly fast in their nuclear ambitions.

A report in the New York Times today tries to go to the bottom of the issue:

"Estimates of just when Iran might acquire a nuclear weapon range from alarmist views of only a few months to roughly 15 years. American intelligence agencies say it will take 5 to 10 years for Iran to manufacture the fuel for its first atomic bomb. Most forecasters acknowledge that secret Iranian advances or black market purchases could produce a technological surprise."

Of great importance would be to retain that degree of Iranian cooperation that allows regular IAEA inspections. We did learn from the somewhat painful Iraqi experience that intelligence without access to inspections on the ground and inside the facilities is hardly reliable.

We should not pursue a policy that blinds ourselves. And that means being careful to ensure continued Iranian cooperation.

Then there will be time for continued diplomacy. The only real alternative to an open and extremely dangereous conflict a couple of years down the road is some sort of grand bargain between Iran and the international community.

That's hardly possible today.

But time might create new possibilities. Playing for time is sometimes good politics.