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The Revelation of Qom: Sky Falling or Heavens Opening?

September 25, 2009

For those who believe that only negotiations can solve the problems posed by Iran’s nuclear program, today’s revelation of a second nuclear enrichment site under construction in Iran is very welcome news. No, that’s not the message delivered by media reports of the disclosure and international reaction to it, and no, I’m not kidding.

Consider the following:

You Can Run a Nuclear Program But You Can’t Hide: Press reports say the U.S. has known about the site near the Iranian city of Qom for several years. This makes “secret nuclear weapons program” an oxymoron. It should give everyone confidence that it’s well nigh impossible for Iran or any other country to have a “secret” nuclear weapons program. The facilities required are just too big to hide. The news also gives opponents of a rogue nuclear program in Iran a strong argument for Iran to comply with the intrusive inspection regime that would be a part of any deal between Iran and the international community: ‘See, you can’t hide. There’s no point in trying.’

Confession is Good for the Soul: You won’t find this mentioned in many of today’s news stories (and maybe not in any) but Iran can make a good case that its notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency about the existence of the Qom plant was timely and fully in compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under the NPT, a country is required to notify the IAEA six months before it introduces nuclear materials into a facility. So Iran can say that this week’s notice shows they are meeting their international obligations. Good. Let’s talk about the advantages to Iran and the rest of us of having Iran accept additional international obligations to guarantee the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities. And let’s talk about ending sanctions and bringing Iran into a regional security structure that can help tamp down the violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Did Iran come clean about Qom, as the press says, only because it learned recently that the international community was on to it? Maybe. Or maybe Iran assumed all along that the U.S. and others were following construction at Qom (I assume Iranian officials have seen the very low-end images of Google Earth) and realized it would be folly to go into the negotiations at Geneva without first coming clean. In either case, prospects for progress at the upcoming talks between Iran and the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are much improved. Confession is good for the soul and for a right relationship with your neighbors.

It’s Not Just Us and Them: Reaction to disclosure of the Qom site has made the Iranian nuclear problem more an international and less a U.S.-only issue. That’s another good thing, since for years one of the stumbling blocks to progress through negotiations has been the U.S. role as an outlier. Even though Obama’s policy of engagement officially changed the U.S. position, U.S. unilateralism was still a potential obstacle to progress. Congress, under very effective pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its allies, has in recent months been threatening more U.S. sanctions: unilateral sanctions very unlikely to change Iranian behavior, but quite likely to make international cooperation to address the Iranian nuclear challenge more difficult. With the revelation of Qom the danger that domestic politics in the U.S. will throw a wrench into the machinery of international negotiations is happily reduced.

The revelation of Qom may well foretell not that the sky is falling but that the heavens are opening to a negotiated solution of the Iranian nuclear issue.

  1. Julie Giessler permalink
    September 25, 2009 8:31 pm

    A secret nuclear program…Israel is the sixth largest nuclear arsenal in the world…theirs is a secret, also. Why not bring this out to the public? Right there in the Middle East…HMMM!

  2. September 29, 2009 4:02 pm

    We really need to point out the U.S. government’s hypocrisy. The Obama Administration wants to ramp up sanctions on a country that is building capacity that could, at some time, be helpful in producing nuclear weapons even though it is a theocracy with a fatwa against nuclear weapons? While the U.S., the only nation to have used nuclear weapons, and which has a stockpile big enough to blow the whole world to Kingdom come several times over?

    Matthew 7:5 applies as well to nations as well as to individuals.

  3. Kathlyn Lew permalink
    September 29, 2009 5:12 pm

    This is the most dazzling take on the whole Iran/nuclear/MidEast problem I have heard of. Have you told President Obama? Has it been shouted to the UN? China? Israel? The World? The Universe? Are they listening????

  4. Erica Stuart permalink
    September 29, 2009 7:00 pm

    We were once lonely voices silenced by ugly name calling. It is nice to see here so many voices going our way.

    Obama has mentioned a nuclear free zone for the Middle East. Iran mentioned long ago it would abide by a nuclear free zone but not by being targeted as a law breaker while Israel with expanding land appetite moves in their direction and breaks every rule by the UN and requests by the World Community.
    One cannot argue with that. Historically Iran looks better than her nuclear armed neighbours. This is the time for Obama to swallow the insult that will come his way as it did with us and submit the Regional Plan. All the rules are ready at the UN. It will be a long fight but it will be the beginning of the end of a nightmare. It will curb AlQaeda pursuit of Pakistan nuclear weapons.

  5. Erica Stuart permalink
    September 29, 2009 7:04 pm

    my comment above awaiting moderation. NO additional comments

  6. Erica Stuart permalink
    September 29, 2009 7:05 pm

    remove third paragraph if too long.

  7. September 29, 2009 9:39 pm

    Echoing Kathlyn Lew’s question (“have you told President Obama?”), there being now such a very short time remaining before the U.S.-Iran meeting (and the media being so swamped with so many articles and opinions mostly discordant to this one) I was wondering: Seeing President and Mrs. Obama chose Quaker schooling for their children, can anyone in the D.C. FCNL community somehow get (so to say) “a special ear” of the president or his advisers?

  8. Lawrence Arsenault permalink
    October 1, 2009 2:48 am

    It’s becoming more obvious that letting the generals decide our foreign policies has been a disaster for all concerned except the generals and their allies in armaments manufacturing. Israel has made it crystal clear that it intends to take as much land from the Palestinians as it wants leaving the President’s assurances to the Middle East hollow and crumbling.
    Because he has a tendency to compromise which his opponents have exploited, we must not only stand behind President Obama; we must remind him of his campaign promises because too many compromises not only means war of indefinite duration, it likely means loss of faith by many who supported him and his campaign promises of CHANGE. On the other hand, if President Obama listens to the people and not the generals this time, he will gain back the strength he had in the election which could easily translate into a foreign policy leading to a real peace in the Middle East.

  9. October 4, 2009 1:02 pm

    You folks are looking at Iran, Pakistan and Afganistan in the wrong light. In 1997 Zbignew Brezinski published his book,”The Grand Chessboard”. A large and growing number of informed people believe that his book is the blueprint for world domination that has been followed first by George W.Bush, and now by Barak Obama. Brezinski says that America must gain control (preferably indirectly) of the nations at the center of the Eurasian continent. Once we dominate the center of the world’s largest landmass, we can play off Europe against the Orient. Only thus can America maintain dominace of the planet for (perhaps) a few hundred years. All the staff at FCNL should read The Grand Chessboard. If you are too pressed for time, then read my article,”Republican Must Reading” at
    PS. During his campaign, Barak Obama’s prime forign policy advisor was . . . Zbignew Brezinski.

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