The Bush administration’s decision to send a top U.S. diplomat, William Burns, to meet with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator at a European Union-led meeting in Switzerland is a victory for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The White House insists the move does not signify a change in policy toward Tehran. Washington has vowed it will not negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program until it temporarily suspends uranium enrichment. The White House claims the meeting is “a one-time U.S. participation,” and that Mr. Burns - the State Department’s third-highest ranking diplomat - will only “listen, not negotiate.” This is irrelevant.
The Burns mission gives Mr. Ahmadinejad the one thing he needs: time. Placing U.S. policy on a diplomatic track allows Mr. Ahmadinejad to prolong the negotiating process. This enables Tehran to obfuscate, deceive and confuse the international community. Iran is not interested in genuine talks; rather, it is using the guise of diplomacy - just as Adolf Hitler did to rearm Germany during the 1930s - to build a nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Ahmadinejad claims Iran craves nuclear energy for civilian purposes only. This is a lie. Tehran possesses the world’s second largest natural-gas reserves and the fifth largest crude-oil reserves. It has no need for domestic nuclear power.
Moreover, if that was the regime’s genuine intent, it would not have endured international isolation and crippling sanctions for the last six years. Iran would have allowed the United Nations full and immediate access to its nuclear sites.
The U.S. and its European partners have repeatedly stressed they support Tehran having peaceful nuclear energy. Instead of transparency, however, Iran has blocked the U.N.’s watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), at every turn.
In May, the IAEA said Tehran’s behavior remains bellicose and troubling: Its uranium enrichment program continues; it refuses to explain evidence of designs for underground testing facilities; it conducts tests of explosive detonators often used for nuclear weapons; it has revamped the Shahab-3 missile to be able to carry a nuclear warhead; and most ominously, it is employing nuclear scientists who are actively studying how America detonated its first plutonium bomb in 1945.
If Iran gets the nuclear bomb the results will be cataclysmic - for Israel, the Middle East and the United States. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a revolutionary Shi’ite mystic, whose goal is to create a global Muslim empire. He has vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.” His dream is a “world without America.” Like Hitler, Mr. Ahmadinejad is a fanatic. He sees himself as divinely ordained to bring about the 12th imam or the “Mahdi,” which according to fundamentalist Shi’ite theology will usher in an apocalypse leading to a universal caliphate.
Iran is a clerical, fascist state. It fosters state-sanctioned anti-Semitism. It supports Islamist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It seeks to destabilize Lebanon. It has transformed Syria into a political vassal. It funds and trains insurgents operating in Iraq in order to murder American soldiers and force a humiliating U.S. retreat.
The fatal flaw in the European Union’s and State Department’s approach is the assumption that Iran is a conventional Mideast power seeking the traditional objectives of enhanced geopolitical prestige and influence - a sort of revived Persian empire with a Shi’ite snarl. In fact, the very opposite is true: Iran is a revolutionary power bent on making the Middle East - and eventually, the world - safe for radical Islam. Tehran’s aim is not only to dominate the region, but to annihilate its enemies.
If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, a regional arms race will be triggered. This will greatly increase the chances that Islamic terrorists will get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, a military showdown with Israel will be inevitable. Mr. Ahmadinejad will not sit back and allow Tehran’s nukes to serve as a strategic deterrent: He will use them in a devastating first strike against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. His warped Shi’ite mythology demands that the Jews be driven out from the Middle East - even if millions of Israelis and Iranians are killed in the process.
America needs to put the military option front and center. Mr. Ahmadinejad should be offered a stark choice: End Iran’s nuclear drive or face regime change. Nothing else will stop him from wreaking havoc on his people and the world.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist for The Washington Times.