uranium centrifuges at Natanz
uranium centrifuges at NatanzReuters

President Barack Obama is prepared to make a major concession to Iran on uranium enrichment while The New York Times says analysts downgrade the chance of war. The newspaper cited dissension in Israel over a military strike, tighter sanctions and hints of Iranian flexibility as reasons for optimism.

The readiness by President Obama to support Iran’s continuing enrichment of uranium to concentrations of 5 percent is in direct opposition to the position of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who told CNN earlier this month, “They have to stop all enrichment," including even 3 percent grade uranium.

The Obama administration now is willing to allow 5 percent enrichment if Iran were to take other major steps to curb its ability to develop a nuclear bomb,” The Los Angeles Times reported Monday. The “other steps” apparently refer to inspection by United Nations officials and undefined safeguards.  

Iran already is producing 20 percent enrich uranium, less than the 90 percent needed for fuel for a nuclear bomb but enough to cut by more than half the time needed to enrich to levels above 90 percent.

The proposed concession by President Obama might suit him well politically against de facto presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He probably will oppose the concession as another sign of weakness while the president may be able count on support from an American public more concerned with the domestic economy than with foreign affairs.

The New York Times, which generally takes a conciliatory line on Iran and Hamas, quoted former Obama administration diplomat Dennis Ross as saying, “While there isn’t an agreement between the U.S. and Israel on how much time, there is an agreement that there is some time to give diplomacy a chance,”  

He added, “It doesn’t mean the threat of using force goes away, but it lies behind the diplomacy.”

The newspaper stated that the Obama administration thinks that talks two weeks ago in Turkey between Iran and Western leaders left the United States with a more optimistic outlook that Iran will be more flexible to solve the crisis over its unsupervised nuclear development.

President Obama intends to introduce tighter economic sanctions on Iran by July 1. American officials believe the looming threat of tighter economic sanctions convinced the Iranians to take the negotiations more seriously, and that in turn has reduced the threat of war.

“We are in a period now where the combination of diplomacy and pressure is giving us a window,” one administration official was quoted as saying.

The hawkish camp points out that Iran has a history of not keeping its word while conducting a policy of dragging out talks and negotiations in order to buy time for proceeding with development towards nuclear capability.

A policy of skepticism towards Iran is being undermined by dissension in Israel, stoked by openly harsh comments by former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yuval Diskin. He flatly charged that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot be trusted to determine policies on Iran, and opined that a military attack on Iran could actually spur it to accelerate its nuclear program.

In addition, IDF Chief of Benny Gantz told an Israeli newspaper last week that he agrees with officials in the Obama administration that Iran has not yet decided to build a nuclear bomb.