- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

For years, those in the West who have been warning about the danger of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons have been routinely dismissed as “alarmists” by liberal politicians, diplomats and journalistic elites. With the publication of yesterday’s New York Times article by David Sanger highlighting the gains that Iran has made in its efforts to produce atomic-bomb-grade material (it could be able to do this as early as next month), the media/political spin could be about to change dramatically. Advocates of a softer line toward the mullahs will argue that Tehran’s nuclear weapons capability is a fait accompli, and that the best course of action for Washington would be to join the Europeans’ diplomatic effort to mitigate the damage.

On Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials inspected Iran’s main nuclear facility at Natanz and concluded Iran is producing fuel suitable for nuclear reactors. Until recently the Iranians found it difficult to keep the centrifuges spinning fast enough to produce nuclear fuel, and were either running them empty or not at all. “Now, those roadblocks appear to have been surmounted,” Mr. Sanger reported.

IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei dutifully repeats the line that he hopes the Iranian government “would listen to the world community,” while making it clear there won’t be any real consequences if it does not. The purpose of international efforts to persuade Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities was to deny it the knowledge of how to enrich uranium for weapons production, Mr. ElBaradei noted. Now that Iran’s defiance may have permitted it to surmount the technical problems, Mr. ElBaradei wants the West to do what is necessary to ensure that the Iranians “remain inside” the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In other words, he wants to use diplomacy to paper over the fact that Iran has lied and cheated and come a long way toward achieving precisely what the treaty was supposed to prevent: the ability to develop nuclear weapons. A senior European diplomat made much the same point in an interview with Mr. Sanger.

How dramatically things have changed from just two years ago, when the NYT and The Washington Post both reported extensively on new CIA findings which highlighted the fact that, unlike the Defense and State Departments, which thought Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in roughly five years, the spooks had concluded that Iran was actually 10 years away. If that scenario sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing took place with regard to Iraq in the early 1990s. But after Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law, who oversaw his WMD programs, defected in 1995, the world learned that Saddam very close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. The 10-year windows may have little real-world relevance, but they serve a useful purpose for would-be diplomat-politicians at the CIA — pushing the problem further into the future in the hope that a “diplomatic solution” can be found, while leaving the agency with plenty of room to say “I told you so” when nasty surprises occur.

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