- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Earlier this week, Mohammed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned against any non-diplomatic means (i.e. military force) to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, saying it would be like opening “a Pandora’s box.” Nothing new there. What is new is what Mr. ElBaradei said immediately before this: If Iran has resumed its uranium enrichment program, it will take only “a few months” before it had a nuclear bomb. His concession is in line with what Israeli authorities have been warning for months, and maybe now Washington can start getting serious.

Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon presented this very same assessment to President Bush in April, contrary to the assertions of Britain, France and Germany, the core of EU countries handling negotiations with Iran’s mullahs. So much for the relief which followed a leaked CIA report from August arguing that Iran was actually a decade away from possessing nuclear weapons. The optimists and appeasers took that report as vindication of their preferred method of handling rogue states — a game of carrots and no sticks. But there’s a lesson here: Whether it be 10 years or a few months, when dealing with fanatical regimes bent on obtaining nuclear weapons, a swift and determined response is the safest course of action.

Judging by his Pandora’s box analogy, however, it’s safe to assume that Mr. ElBaradei — and probably the EU diplomats who share his philosophy — finds no reason to alter course, because “at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find a solution,” he said. Even now, Mr. ElBaradei refuses to acknowledge that the two-year EU negotiation strategy has been a total failure. For evidence, just consider that in August, Iran unsealed its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, and Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran has produced 45 tons of uranium hexafluoride gas since June, enough for at least three or four nuclear devices.

The Bush administration has refused to rule out the use of military force. It mistakingly endorsed the EU deliberations in March, earning plaudits from French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier for “giving negotiations a chance,” and it didn’t much object when those talks predictably produced more concessions for Iran. Now Washington faces a far more difficult task than it might have had it struck a firmer stance earlier. As outgoing Israeli Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash said last week, “Iran has the upper hand in negotiations with the international community.” Mr. ElBaradei is quite mistaken; the box is already open.