Last week’s announcement by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain that Iran has vowed to suspend its effort to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for the Europeans’ promise to help it acquire peaceful nuclear technology. As we go to press, however, Iran denies having agreed to halt uranium enrichment.
But the reality is that, even if Iran formally agrees to do this, there is scant likelihood that the deal (which for now, has the reluctantendorsementoftheBush administration) will do anything to dissuade the radical Islamic regime from its goal of obtaining nuclear weapons. One veteran expert who is skeptical is Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, who explained his position in an interview with The Washington Times and a New York Times op-ed.
According to Mr. Milhollin, the agreement is likely to achieve a result much like the failed 1994 agreement between the Clinton administration and North Korea, in which Pyongyang agreed to stop producing plutonium. Under the agreement, brokered by former President Jimmy Carter, North Korea received economic benefits and avoided diplomatic isolation. But, according to Mr. Milhollin, the agreement left five bombs worth of plutonium inside North Korea’s borders. The government remained only months away from converting that material into bomb fuel — something the North Koreans now claim to have done.
Mr. Milhollin told us that the European deal with Iran will not prevent that government from building more centrifuges, which are needed to make weapons-grade uranium, and there is nothing in the agreement to prevent Iran from resuming uranium enrichment in the future. The Iran deal, Mr. Milhollin said, buys time for a government that has no intention of halting its nuclear program.
A more productive approach, Mr. Milhollin told The Washington Times, would have Washington mobilize its Western European and Japanese allies to stop selling Iran dual-use items like machine tools, computers and high-strength steel used to produce ballistic missiles unless Iran agrees to give international inspectors access sufficient to determine that it is really dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
No one can definitively say how close Iran is to obtaining such weapons. Last week, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told this newspaper that one year from now may be too late to act to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons capability — a capability that would make the world a much more dangerous place. One thing should be crystal-clear when it comes to heading off this danger: Time is not on our side.