The Iran nuclear debate and its sub-atomic particles

The Iran nuclear debate and its sub-atomic particles

Let’s start with a column published Jan. 10 in the Washington Times, the loony but influential conservative newspaper in Washington owned by an evangelical South Korean church.

“The Iranian regime sees Latin America as an advantageous base of operations close to the U.S. homeland – one that provides Iran the ability to strike at America should it make the strategic choice to do so.” Yeah right.

But nutty too is this week’s tour of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to four Latin American colleagues united in his anti-American rhetoric. Trade ties between Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba have been estimated as high as $40 billion. But there’s little evidence to support that. Rather, they all have a string of promised ventures which range from uranium mining and home construction in Venezuela to an oil refinery and milk factory in Ecuador to a “dry canal” for Nicaragua to compete with Panama’s to nothing at all concrete for Cuba.

It’s perhaps a break for Venezuela’s mercurial and ailing Hugo Chavez. And sure to be nostalgic for Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who first took up the Iranian cause at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution back in an earlier stint as president. I wonder, how do you say “No Pasaran!” in Farsi?
But are these political theatrics any more bizarre than those of U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who may have passed Ahmadinejad mid-air on en route to China and Japan on his own brief tour? Geithner’s mission is to convince China to join an effective embargo of Iran’s oil exports and simultaneously increase the value of her currency.

The mounting, almost hysterical, pressure in the U.S. Congress for a revaluation of the renminbi aside, let’s look at the facts on the ground. China’s $1.6 trillion-a-year export juggernaut returns on average a 1.5 percent profit margin to its producers. Revalue the currency and China can kiss her “miracle” goodbye.

On the oil front, Iran supplies about 12 percent of China’s needs today, at a time when China is looking frantically for new supplies amid skyrocketing consumption and plummeting domestic production. Good luck on both fronts Mr. Geithner.

But is this any easier to understand in rational terms than the comments Jan. 8 by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta? The issue was the now-famous report in November by the International Atomic Energy Agency purporting that Iran is edging toward possession of a nuclear bomb. Most independent experts, including a retired U.S. general or two, have challenged that conclusion. But as rhetoric rises, so does the game of gunboat chicken between Iran and America off the vulnerable Strait of Hormuz.

“Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?” Panetta asked rhetorically on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability, and that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us.”
Straight talk or Orwellian doublespeak? Or an innovative hybrid of both?

One thing not confusing at all is the price of oil. Brent crude was trading above $113 a barrel yesterday, up more than 10 percent since mid-December. It’s not hard to understand the meaning of that.