- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Bush administration appears to be going down a troubling path regarding Iran and North Korea. Nicholas Kralev of The Washington Times reported Tuesday that the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are preparing a “package of incentives” in the hope of persuading Tehran to end its uranium enrichment program. The incentives include support for what ostensibly are civilian nuclear energy programs, including Washington’s endorsement of Russia’s plan to build a light-water reactor.

The administration has apparently convinced itself that the fundamental problem with Iran today is one of public relations, and Washington needs to somehow persuade the Iranian parliament that America isn’t run by warmongers who want to deprive Iranians of “peaceful” nuclear energy. But in reality, the parliament consists of overwhelmingly of lawmakers who are not independent agents who have freedom of action like members of Congress have in our country. They have been vetted by the regime before running for office, and they would not be in office if they were thought to be disloyal to hardliners like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who have no intention of stopping uranium enrichment. In addition, the regime has an established infrastructure of secret police and repression to ensure that elected officials don’t stray from the party line.

Such an incentive package is unlikely to magically transform Iran by causing its people to rise up and demand that their Islamist masters stop their efforts to develop atomic weapons. But the Russian light-reactor project could make it easier for Iran to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons. John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of State for nonproliferation, points out that in 2003, the Energy Department studied how much plutonium could be extracted from reactor, which would be in Bushehr. A middle-range estimate was that it would be enough to build between 50 and 60 nuclear weapons. And former Defense official Henry Sokolski informs us that it would be relatively easy for Iran to divert fuel from the power reactor at Bushehr for weapons use. (All Iran would need to do is block International Atomic Energy Agency surveillance cameras and substitute fake fuel rods.)

Iran is a model of openness compared to North Korea. But on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill held out the possibility that the Bush administration is prepared to offer similar incentives to Pyongyang. In an interview with reporters and editors at The Washington Times, Mr. Hill said Washington is prepared to discuss a “civilian” nuclear program with the communist regime in an effort to persuade it to come clean about its nuclear weapons programs. If the North Korean incentive package looks anything like the Iranian one, Congress will need to take a very careful look at the very serious national security implications that lie in such a decision.

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