Iran is planning to wiggle out of an International Atomic Energy Agency referral to the Security Council. Unless the seals are put back on Natanz and the uranium enrichment “research and development” is stopped, Iran will have won.

Using a “two-steps forward, one-step back” approach, Iran can accept Russia’s offer to enrich uranium on Russian soil. After all, the process of successfully enriching uranium is technically complex and Russia’s assistance could move Iran faster along the learning curve.

Yet, if Natanz stays open and Iran continues the process uranium at Isfahan, we should not lose sight of how fundamentally different that situation is than when Iran agreed in November 2004 to stop all work with uranium as a condition of resuming talks with the E.U.-3. Now the Europeans are so shaken by the failure of their negotiations, that any “solution” to avoid a Security Council confrontation will look good to them by comparison. Nor does Mohammed ElBaredei, the director general of the IAEA want to admit that the IAEA has also failed and that Iran still remains non-compliant.

Here’s how Iran plans to play out the gambit. Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, has just made a whirlwind trip to Russia and China. Suddenly, the Russian proposal is back on the table. Larijani still says there is much detail to discuss – those are code words which mean that Iran still has terms and conditions Russia has not agreed to accept. Then we hear that discussions with Russia will not resume until late February – translated, this means Iran has just bought yet more time.

In China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference that “We oppose impulsively using sanctions or threats of sanctions to solve problems. This will complicate problems.” In case anyone missed the point, Larijani has just had photo ops in both Russia and China, two Security Council permanent members, both of whom have now said “No” before the IAEA even has a chance to vote.

Kong Quan echoed Russia’s confidence, saying “We think the Russian proposal is a good attempt to break this stalemate.” Even President Bush continues to express confidence in the Russian proposal. Has everyone forgotten that Isfahan is still busy processing uranium, or that Natanz is gearing up for “research and development” with uranium enrichment?

Is anybody asking for the seals to back on these nuclear facilities? Has anyone heard Iran renounce its supposed sovereign right to “pursue the full fuel cycle” on its own soil? No, not yet, and probably never. Iran is counting that in the relief of avoiding a Security Council referral everyone will forget that Iran has conceded nothing. The world press will go along and Iran will avoid yet another crisis, buying more time.

Then, while Larijani is in China, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed doubts that the IAEA next week could vote on referring Iran to the Security Council. Why not? Annan explained yet another clever dodge – the IAEA is awaiting a final report on Iran and ElBaradei does not expect to receive the final report before the end of February.

So, Kofi Annan wonders how a vote can be taken before the report is ready? Looks the Iranians have ducked the diplomatic bullet once again. Iran is positioning for the world to decide that the special IAEA board meeting the United States called for in Vienna on Feb. 2-3 is premature. Iran is now willing to consider Russia’s proposal and the IAEA report is not yet finished. The Iranians are masters at this game.

What is the likely outcome? The meeting in Vienna on Feb. 2-3 might as well be cancelled, saving the airfare and the wasted time. Iran will go back and forth on Russia’s proposal, seeing if Isfahan and Natanz can stay open. Maybe the uranium could be processed at Isfahan, shipped to Russia for enrichment, returned to Iran for use, all while Natanz stays open and gets ready to begin enriching uranium full-scale.

The moment Iran has a couple thousand modern centrifuges assembled in the appropriate cascades and ready to go, the mullahs will simply create a new crisis. Then the Iranians will say that they want to supplement Russia’s uranium enrichment with a little uranium enrichment of their own. The Iranians even then will draw the distinction that enriching a limited amount of uranium is different from full-scale enrichment. The game will go on.

For anyone who has watched this song and dance for years, the routine is very old, maybe even a little boring, simply because the outcome is so predictable. Iran creates a nuclear crisis and the world, led by the United States, threatens sanctions. Then Iran accepts a compromise, which is declared a big win for diplomacy. The world backs off, the Bush administration is played for the fool, and Iran goes back to developing yet more nuclear technology.

The only problem is that Israel’s patience continues to wear thin. Hamas is now in control of the Palestinian Authority and Iran is pressing ahead with their nuclear program. The radical Islamic world is already at war with Israel, whether we accept the reality or not. Pretty soon Israel is going to have to decide reluctantly that world diplomacy is no solution to their problem of survival in this age of radical Islamic terrorism. Iran is in the driver’s seat and Ahmadinejad has the accelerator pressed to the floor.

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