When it comes to Iran, facts get a rough ride

Iran’s Supreme Leader, centre, attends a graduation ceremony of army cadets (Photo: AP)

Iran’s Supreme Leader, centre, attends a graduation ceremony of army cadets (Photo: AP)

In the delicate diplomatic game going on between Washington, Jerusalem and Tehran, both in plain sight and beneath the radar, facts and official statements are important but the interpretation of those facts are of equal importance.

Although Iran insists it would never build a nuclear weapon, there is no doubt in the West that has accumulated hundreds of kilograms of enriched uranium and installed new centrifuges that could enrich that material quickly to weapons-grade.

But while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within six months, President Barack Obama appears more nonchalant and, in an interview last weekend with the Associated Press news agency, said that Iran is still “a year or more away” from military nuclear capability.

There is a similar split over the recent Iranian diplomatic campaign. Tehran insists that it is sincere and it is the West that is acting in bad faith. Mr Obama said that the world must “test” Iran and insists he will not take a “bad deal”. Mr Netanyahu, meanwhile, is already convinced there is no chance of reaching any deal with Iran.

No one yet knows what the talks with Iran will look like

Mr Obama added in the interview with AP that the Israeli intelligence assessments were “more conservative” than those of his administration.

This is slightly misleading, however. The intelligence communities of Israel and the US are closely co-ordinated and there is little disagreement regarding Iran’s intentions and capabilities — the differences are mainly over what constitutes the point of no return.

Israel, with a much smaller military than the US, no aircraft carriers or foreign bases, has much less flexibility to launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear installations. It cannot wait until the last moment before Iran actually conducts a nuclear test. In addition, Mr Netanyahu has scant confidence that the current American administration will follow through with its commitment to use every mean at its disposable to deny Iran a nuclear weapon. Certainly not after Mr Obama’s climbdown over Syria’s chemical weapons.

The voices coming out of Tehran are disorientating. After the charm offensive two weeks ago at the UN General Assembly in New York, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei released a string of seemingly contradictory statements which both endorsed President Hassan Rouhani and expressed reservations about his diplomatic initiative.

No one yet knows what talks with this new Iranian government will look like. When they get down to details, will they prove more flexible than the previous intransigent Iranian team? Mr Obama nailed it in his interview when he said that everyone should “be very wary of any kind of talk from the Iranians”.

Last updated: 5:45pm, October 10 2013