On March 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will discuss Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The meeting will be an important test of the Bush administration’s willingness to challenge efforts by Europe and the IAEA bureaucracy to delay what should be inevitable: referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council.
Since June, when the IAEA reported that Iran has been secretly working to develop nuclear weapons, Washington has worked to intensify the pressure on Tehran to come clean. In September, the IAEA announced it had set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to disprove the mounting body of evidence that it was developing nuclear weapons. Right before the deadline, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for European promises to provide peaceful nuclear technology. Then, on Nov. 10, IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei issued a 30-page report documenting Iran’s deceptions about its nuclear program dating back to the 1980s. But Mr. ElBaradei’s report concluded that “no evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons program had been found.
Two days later, the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, said that this conclusion “is simply impossible to believe … In what can only be an attempt to build a capacity to develop nuclear materials for nuclear weapons, Iran has enriched uranium with both centrifuges and lasers, and produced and reprocessed plutonium.” The United States, he added, “believes that the massive and covert Iranian capabilities make sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program.” In early December, Mr. Bolton said that Iran has “deliberately and repeatedly lied to the IAEA” about its nuclear weapons programs.
Since then, evidence of Iranian cheating has mounted. Last fall, Iran reached an agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its uranium-processing and enrichment activities. Unfortunately, the world was jolted back to reality last month, when Iran brazenly announced it was building centrifuges. Then, in just the latest in a long series of new revelations, IAEA inspectors announced that they found traces of polonium, a radioactive substance which can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction — another item which Iran failed to declare. The IAEA’s findings are “very incriminating,” said Robert Einhorn, a Clinton administration anti-proliferation specialist.
Secretary of State Colin Powell last week made a speech pointing to the sharp contrast between Libya’s cooperation on dismantling its weapons of mass destruction and Iran’s failure to be forthcoming with the IAEA. Yet on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested that Iran had not lied and that the information it had provided was “more or less correct” but “not complete.”
Mr. Boucher is wrong to suggest that Iran is simply guilty of providing incomplete information. The problem, as Mr. Bolton has pointed out, is a systematic campaign of lies by Iran. It’s time for the issue to be referred to the Security Council for further action.