William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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IS IRAN LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT – AT 8:03 A.M. ET:  A story in today's New York Times, although far from the lead story, suggests that Iran may be slowing enrichment of some uranium as a possible signal that it is looking for a deal. 

I'm surprised by the story because it isn't new.  It's been around for months.  It looks, frankly, like something planted by the "make Iran happy" crowd in Washington.  But you can judge for yourself:

WASHINGTON — By subtly putting its hands on the brakes of its uranium enrichment efforts, Iran may be signaling that it wants to avoid a direct confrontation over its nuclear program, at least in the near term, according to United States and other Western officials. The action has also led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s leaders are showing signs that they may be more interested in a deal to end the nuclear standoff with the West.

Evidence began emerging last summer that the Iranians were diverting a significant portion of their medium-enriched uranium for use in a small research reactor, converting it into a form that cannot easily be used in a weapon.

One American official said the move amounted to trying to “put more time on the clock to solve this,” characterizing it as a step “you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated.” Israel’s departing defense minister, Ehud Barak, came to a similar conclusion when he said in October that his country could safely back away from threats of military action against Iran, at least until the late spring or summer of 2013.

But White House, State Department and Pentagon officials all cautioned against drawing firm conclusions about Iran’s ultimate intentions.

A new session of talks involving Iran and six major powers, including the United States, is expected next year, and American officials say they still cannot determine whether Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is ready to strike a deal.

A quiet feeler seeking direct talks with Iran that the administration put out after President Obama’s re-election last month resulted in “no real response,” another senior official said, adding: “It wasn’t that they said yes or no. They said nothing.”

These uncertainties underlie the hunger in Western countries to understand why Iran appears to be keeping its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium — which could be converted to bomb fuel in weeks or months — to a level below the amount necessary to build a single weapon.

COMMENT:  I'd be awfully careful about this one.  First, the Iranians, Persians, are superb negotiators.  Their history shows the excellence of their diplomatic service.  They know how to tie other nations in knots, and to lead other nations in the wrong direction.

We don't know the totality of the Iranian nuclear program.  That's admitted.  Some of these "signals" may be hiding much higher uranium refinement in secret locations.  I wouldn't trust that government.

December 28,  2012