Amb. Henry Cooper
September 25, 2013
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani openly bragged of shepherding a major expansion of Iran's uranium enrichment programs a decade ago, when he led Iran's negotiations with the West that were seeking to limit those programs. He still serves the continuing objectives and policies of Iran's same supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that call for destroying the "little Satan" Israel and the "great Satan" America. Rouhani's current approach, which many describe as "moderate," actually promises more of the same under Khamenei. Thus, Iran's alleged moderate approach provides cover for achieving a uranium and/or plutonium nuclear capability–possibly within months. Will US and other Western Diplomats again be taken in by Rouhani's softer diplomatic approach than the bombastic pronouncements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also served the wishes of Khamenei? Stay tuned.
Last Sunday's New York Times hopeful editorial projected that all eyes at yesterday's United Nations General Assembly would be on Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, hoping he will provide "concrete evidence" that he is more willing than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to engage more constructively with the West. Ahmadinejad, you may recall, insisted on proceeding with Iran's nuclear program, denied the Holocaust and seemed unconcerned as his country slipped into deeper economic distress. Now, the economic pain of effective sanctions may have persuaded the Ayatollah to change horses midstream without actually changing course.
The Times correctly noted that Rouhani has a sophisticated, Western-savvy team including his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who received degrees from American universities and spent most of his adult life in the United States. They have raised expectations for a more constructive role, via a charm offensive in full swing with policy wonks, journalists and business people at invitation-only breakfasts, dinners and meetings during this week. As a prelude, they included signals to the Jewish community (including world-wide Rosh Hashana greetings via Twitter) suggesting peaceful future relations with Israel. In setting the stage for his speech today, he–allegedly a "moderate conservative," announced yesterday that he will present a new "true face of Iran."
Can you believe it? Seems too good to be true.
Haven't We Seen this Play Before
In fact–if history is a guide, you should not believe it. We've seen this play before, as I discussed in my June 18, 2013 and August 13, 2013 email messages–aptly entitled "Hope for the Best; Prepare for the Worst..." and "Definitely a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing." This message repeats some of the important points, which still are pertinent.
In warning of things to come, I joined Reza Kahlili in noting that Rouhani had openly boasted that when he led Iran's negotiations with the West on Iran's nuclear programs, between October 2003 and August 2005, Iran's 150 centrifuges grew to over 1,700. (Reza Kahlili is a pseudo name of a counterterrorism expert who served in CIA Directorate of Operations as a spy in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. He currently serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, an advisory board to Congress, and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.)
The high points of his comments on his 2003-2005 progress are summarized below. Rouhani summed up the purpose of his negotiations and his strategy–which should provide some insight for his current charm offensive: "We needed time" to complete the uranium enrichment. Iran invited Britain, France and Germany to engage in the so-called E-3 talks and successfully sought to get them to block US efforts to transfer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the United Nations, which might have provided more scrutiny of Iran's programs and inhibiting sanctions.
Rouhani called Iran's widely publicized claim that it stopped its nuclear program in 2003 a statement for the uneducated and admitted that the program not only did not stop, it significantly expanded during and after his tenure as Chief Negotiator. By 2005, there were over 3000 spinning centrifuges, growing to over 10,000 today.
The Past as Prologue?
Fast forward to today–in view of Rouhani's record of deceit and his recent offer to negotiate on Tehran's nuclear program–and his reported exchange of letters with President Obama as we have approached today's "crunch time" at the United Nations. Will they meet? To what end? And to quote a previous Secretary of State in a somewhat different example of deception in high places (Benghazi), "What difference does it make?"
Last August 9th in the New York Times, Amos Yadlin and Avner Golov argued regarding "Iran's Plan B for the Bomb" that "it would be dangerous to think that Iran's proposal for negotiations alone would pave the way for a deal"–and that any effective negotiation must deal with three dimensions:
▪ Uranium enrichment from a low level (3.5 percent to 19.75 percent) to weapons-grade level (90 percent);
▪ Iran's progress toward a quick "breakout capability" through the stockpiling of large quantities of low-enriched uranium that could be further enriched rapidly to provide weapons-grade fuel; and
▪ Iran's parallel track to a nuclear capability through the production of plutonium.
Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence and now director of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies (where Golov is a researcher) and Golov acknowledge Iran's thousands of centrifuges and enough low-enriched uranium permits Iran to produce several nuclear bombs if it chooses to further enrich the fuel. At the same time they might not cross what is perceived as Israel's red line: 240 kilograms (about 530 pounds) of uranium enriched to a level of 19.75 percent. And they quoted Western experts Graham T. Allison Jr. (Director of Harvard's Belfer Center and a Former Assistant Secretary of Defense), Olli Heinonen (Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center and a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency) and a recent Institute for Science & International Security report to note that:
If Iran decided to develop a bomb today, it could do so within three to five months–and at the current pace of installation, Iran could reduce its breakout time to just one month by the end of this year, and by mid-2014 to less than two weeks.
Yadlin and Golov also emphasized the near-term possibility of an Iranian plutonium bomb–via a heavy-water reactor in Arak that could become operational in time to produce weapons-grade plutonium next summer. Note that of the three countries that have publicly crossed the nuclear threshold since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970, two–India and North Korea–did so via the plutonium track.
At his last United Nations session (September 2012), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on uranium enrichment, reinforcing the wide perception of the Iranian nuclear program. This year's update of his "red line" analysis should include Iran's potential to attain such a swift breakout capability using uranium–and should add a concern about Iran's possible ability to build a plutonium bomb without detection. Time is running out.
An inescapable bottom line is that, despite UN, US and European sanctions, the Islamic regime never halted its nuclear program and have inched ever closer to production of nuclear bombs-they are now dangerously close to their goal. Its decade of negotiations with the West bought time to make gains in both its nuclear and missile programs. As the world community-and especially the United States–considers Rouhani's charm offensive including a Washington Post OpEd companion to Russia's President Vladimir Putin's lecture to the American people in the New York Times, it should also carefully consider what might be next in the unfolding events of the Middle East-where US recent dithering leadership seems to have given the baton to Russia and undertaken a cheerleader role.
Certainly, Israel will.
It seems like eons ago that the President's alleged outrage over Assad's alleged use of Chemical Weapons to kill innocent civilians and especially children warranted an "unbelievably small" but remarkably effective attack on Syria–which it is claimed so impressed the leaders of Russia and Syria that Russia's President Vladimir Putin took the baton from a seemingly off-hand comment by Secretary of State Kerry and shifted attention to an alleged historic agreement that allegedly would eliminate in record time the chemical weapon stockpile of his client Syrian President Bashar Havez al-Assad. Is this comedy or a tragedy?
To be sure, such an achievement would be historic indeed if ever realized–and most of the world's media is eagerly anticipating such good news. Seemingly forgotten is the long standing alliance between Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and other unsavory elements–an orchestra now being directed by Putin. Surely, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been fooled–his comments at the UN General Assembly should be interesting.
As I wrote on June 18, "Hope for the best but plan for the worst"–which I think Victor Davis Hanson well summarized recently as follows:
▪ In about a year or so Assad and Putin will announce that they "think" they might have in theory rounded up a lot of the WMD, and will soon make plans to turn it over to "authorities," subject to further negotiations.
▪ John Kerry will periodically announce that "his" plan has worked and that Assad still cannot kill with WMD any of those he kills by other means, as Obama adds that Putin still "owns" the crisis and that the US keeps all options on the table.
▪ Assad will stay in power, given his own ability to use Russian weapons to stalemate the insurgents, who increasingly become even more unsympathetic and up the profile of Islamist groups in their midst. We may see 200,000 total casualties, to the extent they are reported, by this time next year.
▪ Europe and the UN will decide that they really don't much care what Assad or his enemies do.
▪ Most in the region will still argue over who is the new outside arbiter, a militarily and economically stagnant Russia under a canny and audacious authoritarian, or a once overwhelmingly strong US led by Hamlet.
▪ Iran will follow the Assad model–welcoming Russian support, and, like Assad, swearing off any intention to ever use WMD, as it requests new rounds of negotiations, and its leaders give TV interviews to showcase their new moderate and engaged attitude.
* Obama will reference "Bush" and "Iraq" if ever asked about what's up in Syria.
▪ The American public will have a vague idea that about a year earlier something happened sometime to someone in Syria, but what and when and where and why they are not quite sure.
▪ A periodic op-ed in the New York Times will deplore the ongoing violence in Syria.
▪ Ignore the above if Assad is stupid enough to use WMD yet one more time just to embarrass further the US; the pressure on Obama would be such that he really would have to order an unbelievably small shot across the Syrian bow.
I would also recommend the discussion of why we should be skeptical of Rouhani's charm offensive by my fellow Independent Working Group member, Ilan Berman.
In any case, if negotiations with Iran should resume, Western leaders should increase their current leverage–sanctions and credible military threats. They should ensure that any future agreement with Iran addresses all the above three dimensions of Iran's nuclear program, and we should increase our support for programs to defend against the growing possibility that Iran may succeed in getting nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that can attack the US homeland as well as our overseas troops and allies.
In any case, moderate messages from Tehran should not be allowed to camouflage Iran's continuing progress toward their goals–especially given President Rouhani's record of deception coupled with his image of moderation.
Implications for America
A nuclear-armed Iran is far more important to our national security interest than other distractions associated with the above unfolding pattern of events. Don't imagine that Israel is the only nation threatened by Iranian nuclear arms. The United States is as well–particularly when such weapons are mated to ballistic missiles that can be launched from Iran or off our coasts to attack us. And as we have repeatedly pointed out we have significant vulnerabilities–particularly from a high altitude nuclear explosion over the United States that creates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
I again repeat for emphasis, if/when Iran gets nuclear weapons and can mate them to ballistic missiles that they already have, they will pose an existential threat to the United States in any of the following ways:
▪ Nuclear-armed ICBM attacks over the North Pole–we need to strengthen our current defenses, especially for the Eastern Seaboard; congress is aware of this problem and pressing for improvements–though recent statements by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggest that funding for these programs may not be available in the appropriations currently being considered.
▪ Nuclear-armed satellite attacks over the South Pole–we are vulnerable to this mode of attack, which Iran (and North Korea) may have practiced; and this clearly possible threat appears to be being ignored.
▪ Nuclear-armed short, medium, or intermediate range missiles launched from vessels off our coasts–we are vulnerable to this mode of attack, but could employ Aegis ships normally near or on our coasts to provide limited defenses if we trained their crews to do so. Aegis Ashore sites, like those to be built in Romania and Poland, also could address this problem. The administration is supposed to address this issue next year in response to a congressional directive.
▪ Nuclear-armed short, medium or intermediate range missiles launched from the south–from the vessels in the Gulf of Mexico or from Latin America–and we are totally vulnerable and will require the deployment of effective defenses to counter such attacks. Aegis Ashore sites could provide this defense. The administration is also supposed to address this issue next year in response to the same congressional directive.
Any of these attack modes can detonate a nuclear weapon above the United States to create an EMP that could cause irreparable damage to the key large transformers of the electric power grid–and under certain well known conditions that could cause a complete failure of the electric power grid for an indefinite period. The ultimate result anticipated by credible experts could be that the consequent chaos would lead to the death of several hundred million Americans within the following year.
Thus, it is very important to harden the electric power grid so that if an attacking missile gets through the defense and detonates its nuclear weapon high above the United States, we will not lose our electric power indefinitely. If we can accomplish this hardening of the electric power grid, then we will have a good chance of reinstating other critical infrastructure upon which our survival depends. Such hardening will also protect us against EMP from the solar storms. For a more complete summary of these issues, see our August 2nd email.
In addressing these concerns, it should be emphasized that the federal government's first duty is to provide for the common defense. Providing effective missile defenses and hardening the electric power grid as quickly as possible should be a national priority.
High Frontier Plans
We at High Frontier will continue to stick to our knitting, by seeking as quickly as we can to inform "the powers that be" of existential threats to the American people–as we have discussed in our emails for many months–and to urge them to "provide for the common defense" as charged by the Constitution they are sworn to uphold. Hopefully, key federal authorities and members of congress will soon begin to deal more effectively with the existential threat posed by natural and man-made electromagnetic pulse.
Key initiatives are to urge the Washington powers that be to undertake both the Shield Act and efforts to enhance our ballistic missile defenses, especially for our citizens on the East Coast and around the Gulf of Mexico, where they are completely vulnerable to ballistic missiles launched from vessels in the Gulf–or from Latin America, e.g., Venezuela.
But frankly, we have come to doubt that Washington will act in an expeditious way. Thus, we are also taking the message to grass roots America. Our local and state authorities need to understand these issues and what they might do if their federal representatives continue to fail "to provide for the common defense." The end of this month, I will be in the Florida panhandle, seeking to advise the folks there of their absolute vulnerability against ballistic missiles launched from the Gulf of Mexico-and what can be done about it if only their representatives do their jobs.
In particular we will be observing that it would be wise for the Florida state legislature to follow Maine's initiative and harden the electric power grid in Florida, while holding the Washington authorities accountable for their oath to provide for the common defense. Hopefully, in joining such an effort, other states will be encouraged for follow them.
This article was originally published at The American Center for Democracy. Refer to original article for related links, author bio and important documentation.
Ambassador Henry Cooper has had a distinguished career of government service in matters relating to national security. He was Chief US Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union (1985-1989) and was appointed the first civilian Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) director in 1990. Previously he served as Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, with responsibility for Air Force strategic and space systems. Ambassador Cooper is Chairman of High Frontier, a non-profit organization studying issues of missile defense and space, and of Applied Research Associates and Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy.
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