Tehran doesn’t seem to have learned the central lesson from the demise of Saddam Hussein: The rules have changed, and it has become dangerous to lie and play games with the international community when it comes to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Just a few weeks ago, Tehran acknowledged that it is continuing to build uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which are needed to make nuclear weapons. This contradicts the announcement made last fall by Britain, France and Germany that Iran had agreed to halt such activity. In short, the European trio appears to have been hoodwinked.
In September, the U.N.-affiliated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Iran to suspend its uranium-processing and enrichment activities and sign a protocol permitting more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities. Iran agreed to sign the protocol and suspend the activities. In return, Iran gained a promise that it could have more access to high technology from Europe. Then, in December, Iran signed the protocol, much to the relief of politicians and diplomats in Europe and Washington.
Unfortunately, they were jolted back to reality when Iran announced several weeks ago that it is building the centrifuges. Tehran now brazenly claims that the deal does not require it to halt all “enrichment-related” activities and that it has the right to continue to amass centrifuges. France, Britain and Germany disagree with Tehran’s very narrow interpretation of the agreement. But Germany wants to use gentle persuasion to get Iran to change its behavior, while Britain, France and IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei may be inclined to ratchet up the pressure if Iran’s defiance continues.
“Iran is just the opposite of Libya,” one frustrated diplomat told Reuters last month, referring to Moammar Gadhafi’s renunciation of WMD and opening facilities up to international inspectors.
Of course, Tehran’s cheating is nothing new. It merely continues behavior that has gone on for several decades. In November, the IAEA issued a 30-page report documenting Iranian deception about its nuclear weapons programs dating back to the mid-1980s. At the time, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton warned that if Iran “is continuing to conceal its nuclear program and has again lied to the IAEA, the international community must be prepared to declare Iran in noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards agreements.”
Iran’s continued cheating could have dire consequences. Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (who has been notably prescient in warning about the Iranian threat) writes in National Review Online that, if Iran fed those centrifuges with the enriched uranium that Russia plans to send it for the light-water Bushehr reactor, Tehran could produce enough material for a bomb “in a matter of weeks.”
This week, a who’s who of international terrorists — including Hezbollah and al Qaeda offshoots — are meeting in Tehran to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power. This event, known as the “Ten Days of Dawn,” serves to remind us all why it would be intolerable to permit the Iranian regime to obtain nuclear weapons and why preventing this should be a top priority for American policy-makers.