In the End, Will Iran’s Nuclear Plans Be Decided by — Cancer?

However many obstacles it encounters — International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, difficulty procuring the technology and know-how, sabotage, assassinations of its scientists — Iran appears to be stumbling toward a degree of nuclear weaponization. While some in the West believe Iran seeks to actually develop nuclear weapons, it’s more likely that, instead, it seeks the capacity to build nuclear weapons on demand (sometimes known as virtual deterrence). But, as Iran demonstrates by its occasional openness to overtures, it may be willing to bargain away weaponization.

Diplomacy is handicapped, though, when the West, especially the United States, fails to observe its end of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and take substantive steps toward disarmament. At the same time, it tries to hold Iran to the letter of the law of the NPT and demands that it refrain from nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, few would have guessed that observing a commitment to its people — if only to keep them from taking to the streets again — might determine the direction of Iran’s nuclear program.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson explain.

A nuclear research reactor in Tehran may hold the key to resolving the prolonged nuclear stalemate between Iran and the West. The Iranian government is running out of the 20 percent-enriched uranium it needs to operate the reactor, and that appears to be making it amenable to compromise.

The reactor is used to make medical isotopes, which, until the Iranian revolution, were supplied by the United States and Argentina. The isotopes, in turn, are used to treat 850,000 Iranians for cancer. What does this have to do with Iran’s nuclear weapons plans?

By arranging to procure this uranium, which, according to the authors, “lies at the perilous dividing line between low-enriched uranium and highly enriched uranium,” from the West instead of manufacturing and stockpiling it on its own, Iran “may lower concerns that [it] will make a dash toward developing atomic bombs in the near future. … Whether the offer is an olive branch or an act of necessity, it is an unprecedented opportunity for Washington and its allies.”

Cancer has a way of undermining even our best-laid plans. Besidees, when immediate concerns, such as the well-being of its people, take precedence over its nuclear aspirations, Iran is humanized in the eyes of the West. “For once,” write Vaez and Ferguson, “it is strategically expedient for the United States and its allies to take Ahmadinejad at his word. They should provide Iran with 50 kilograms of fuel, without any conditions.”