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Final Countdown

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
December 4, 2012
Foreign Policy

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If you have followed the covert and diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon over the past five years, you know that new or noteworthy movements from Tehran, Tel Aviv, or Washington are few and far between. Iran makes fantastic claims about advances in its civilian nuclear program, many of which are subsequently confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Israel threatens to attack Iran in a thinly veiled effort to impel the P5+1 negotiating group (China, Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany) to increase economic and diplomatic sanctions; and American officials repeatedly pledge to prevent a nuclear Iran, while the U.S. military gradually strengthens its capabilities in theater and deepens its cooperation with Gulf states in order to contain Iran.

Underpinning this rhetorical bluster is the recognition that negotiations to compel Iran to cooperate with the IAEA -- to demonstrate that the Iranian civilian nuclear program does not have possible military dimensions, forbidden by the NPT Safeguards Agreement signed by Iran in 1974 -- are not sustainable. Experts predict that the nuclear dispute between the P5+1 (predominantly the United States) and Iran will ultimately be resolved -- either through negotiations or the use of force. Some (including yours truly) have speculated this resolution will come this year, or the following year, or the year after that. During a press conference on Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged this enduring forecasting problem: "I think that it will happen during 2013, but I thought that it will happen during 2012, and saw what happened -- and 2011."

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