On October 25th, inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were granted access to the secret and recently outed nuclear facility under construction in a secluded mountain inside an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base near the holy city of Qum.
We now have definitive confirmation from IAEA and European diplomats that the nuclear installation was too small for peaceful nuclear enrichment, but large enough to hold enough centrifuges to convert low grade enriched uranium into enough weapons-grade uranium needed to make nuclear warheads.
In other words, the Qum nuclear facility appears to be the smoking gun in Iran's secret nuclear weapons construction program. If the neutral IAEA has come to that conclusion, I can't wait to hear from those who would love to spin it as nothing more than an innocent doughnut factory.
So much for the value of the once vaunted November 2007 U.S. intelligence agencies' National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that proffered Iran was not engaged in any weapons-oriented uranium enrichment enterprise. Even before his inspectors finished their inspection of Qum, IAEA chief Mohamad ElBaradei directly accused Iran of violating its international legal obligations by failing to disclose the Qum facility to the IAEA.
While the technical revelations regarding the Qum nuclear enrichment facility filter out as the IAEA prepares its final report to the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. is at a crossroads regarding Iran's nuclear program.
Cautious optimism that an Obama administration-orchestrated Geneva proposal whereby Iran would agree to ship 1200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to a third country for further enrichment under international supervision has evaporated. Living up to everyone's worst expectations of Iranian negotiating duplicity, the deal is now so bogged down with Iranian preconditions and qualifications to make further Western concessions to revive the tentative deal pointless, unless of course, Iran reverses course.
To make matters worse, Obama's engagement entreaties to Iran keep getting a "return to sender" response. And just yesterday Iran's state prosecutor signaled his intent to bring espionage charges against three detained American hikers -- making them pawns in this high stakes showdown. Moreover, Ayatollah Khamenei has gone out of his way in recent days to make pointed accusations against President Obama.
Even in the face of these Iranian retorts engagement efforts remain justified. But Iran's continued rejection of the Geneva plan, coupled with the IAEA's revelations regarding the illicit Qum nuclear facility are severely narrowing the Obama Administration's engagement policy options. All this coming at the worst possible moment for an administration trying to cope with other major foreign policy challenges. The president has stated he would give Iran until December to abide by its international obligations. Then, there will an effort to increase economic sanctions on Iran.
The atomic ayatollahs appear indifferent to any carrot or stick. Let's hope that is another Iranian negotiating ploy. Perhaps with its hands caught red-handed in the nuclear cookie jar the Iranians may reconsider and seek a face-saving way to avoid a showdown with the West and Israel. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the horizon to suggest Iran's leaders wish to meet Obama's outstretched hand half way.