The clock ticks on Iran

Today, negotiators from France, Germany and the United Kingdom are set to resume talks with Iran over that country’s nuclear ambitions. If top Iranian officials’ remarks over the weekend indicate anything, it is that these talks, like the ones that preceded it, are likely to fail. The good news is that the Europeans are starting to notice.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but on Sunday, Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s foreign policy chief, all but pre-emptively scratched the centerpiece of European negotiating efforts: a proposal to trade light-water reactors and uranium enriched outside Iran for a promise to suspend all domestic uranium enrichment activities. One of Mr. Mousavian’s deputies rejected the proposal in its preliminary form, calling it “unbalanced” and promising to negotiate with unspecified “other countries.” Meanwhile, Mr. Mousavian issued threats over the Europeans’ vow that they will support sending Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions if matters can’t be resolved. If the nuclear question is not answered within a month, they say — the date of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna to determine Iran’s compliance — then considering sanctions will be the required step.

The European vow to refer matters to the Security Council is the new element here. For months, the United States has been urging the IAEA to take such a route. But the Europeans have resisted, holding onto the notion that negotiations and concession-making could still work on Iran. The Iranian position this week proves that the game is up, and the Europeans are starting to acknowledge it, too.

As we’ve pointed out many times, Iran’s track record on compliance is abysmal. A year ago, the IAEA itself issued a 30-page report detailing nearly 20 years of deception on the part of Tehran. But the IAEA and the Europeans have been slow to condem. Meanwhile, the mullahcrats use each moment to their advantage in their covert acquisition and development of nuclear technologies. Even the overt activities are moving forward. Agence France Presse reported Monday that a hardline faction of Iranian MPs are pushing legislation that would force the government to enrich uranium despite the international entreaties against so doing.

We’re not expecting this week to be the last for concession-making when it comes to Iran. Nor are we holding our breath for a strong Security Council response to Iran’s provocations. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has yet to weigh in, and we presume that China and Russia — both of which maintain cordial relations with Iran and are heavily dependent on Iran for petroleum — will play obstructionist roles if the Security Council were to consider sanctions. But it is heartening to see that the Europeans are beginning to realize that they have been had. Now, with the clock ticking on the Iranian bomb, we urge them to double their efforts to show Tehran its nuclear ambitions won’t be tolerated by the international community.

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