- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Things continue to grow increasingly uncomfortable for the mullahs running the show in Tehran. At this writing, there have been seven straight nights of mass demonstrations throughout the country demanding that the clerics implement democratic reform. The government has responded with an iron fist, attacking demonstrators with guns, knives, machetes and clubs. American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen, writing in National Review Online, reports that so many members of the military and the Revolutionary Guards are supporting the demonstrators that the regime has had to resort to importing “Afghan Arabs” (i.e., supporters of Osama bin Laden) to suppress them.

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, meeting in Vienna, Austria, is preparing to take up Washington’s complaints about Tehran’s covert nuclear weapons program. On Monday, the IAEA, under heavy pressure from Washington, called on Tehran to sign a special protocol to the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bars signatories from developing nuclear weapons. The protocol would allow the agency to inspect all suspected nuclear sites in Iran — not just those approved by the government.

For Iran, efforts to develop nuclear weapons became a priority following the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah. Russian aid has been indispensable in helping Iran build a reactor in Bushehr, which could enable the regime to produce plutonium by 2005. Also, over the past 20 years, Iran has become the top customer for missiles and nuclear technology from North Korea (aside from Iran, the lone remaining “axis of evil” state mentioned by President Bush in last year’s State of the Union address).

Dating back to the Clinton administration, Washington’s policy has largely focused on using diplomacy to delay Iran’s nuclear program. This means, for example, that Washington has sought to persuade Russia to curtail (or preferably discontinue) its nuclear assistance to Iran. The United States also has been pushing the IAEA to take a more assertive public stance in highlighting instances of Iranian non-cooperation with international inspectors.

The pressure may be having the desired effect. The IAEA’s latest report on Iranian nuclear weapons, published on Friday, confirms what critics have been saying for years about Tehran’s non-cooperation. “Iran has failed to meet its obligations” with respect to “the reporting of nuclear material, its subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed,” the IAEA said. Other examples of Iranian failures highlighted by the IAEA include the failure to declare that it had imported natural uranium. Iran also failed to declare the production of nuclear material and what was done with the resulting waste.

While Iran, under pressure from the IAEA, has belatedly moved to provide some of the required information in recent months, the agency also says that “the number of failures by Iran to report the material facilities and activities in question in a timely manner” is “a matter of concern.”

The demonstrations at least suggest that the mullahs’ days as rulers of Iran may be numbered. That would probably cause a shift in the correlation of forces in the war on terror. That’s the good news. The danger is that they will be able to produce a nuclear weapon or two before their regime collapses. In the short term, Washington can reduce this danger by continuing to work with the IAEA to force Iran to come clean, while leaning forward in support of the popular uprising. (For more information on the Iranian freedom protests, check out the student Web site at www.daneshjoo.org.)

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