While the news media fixates on the financial and logistical challenges Washington faces in rebuilding Iraq, it has largely ignored the Bush administration’s campaign to head off the development of nuclear weapons by a regime that is hardly any less brutal and dangerous than Saddam Hussein’s late dictatorship: the mullahcracy next door in Iran. On Friday, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that it has set an October 31 deadline for Tehran to disprove the mounting body of evidence that it is developing nuclear weapons.
The decision made by the IAEA (an institution previously known for its lethargic responses to nuclear weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea) represents a major diplomatic victory for the Bush administration. It is just the latest sign that the international community is coming to realize that it would be intolerable to permit Iran — perhaps the world’s foremost supporter of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda and a bitter enemy of any peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — to obtain nuclear weapons.
“It is essential and urgent…that Iran remedy all failures identified by the agency and cooperate fully,” the IAEA said in its resolution, which passed without any dissent. The agency urged Tehran to open all of its nuclear sites for inspections and provide a “full declaration” about its nuclear program. IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei declared that the deadline sent “a very powerful message to Iran to cooperate fully and immediately.” The IAEA called on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities after evidence of weapons-grade uranium production was found at Natanz — ostensibly a civilian nuclear facility.
The IAEA move represents a potentially embarrassing setback for British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Since 1997, London has pursued a policy of attempting to carry out a dialogue with Iranian “moderates” such as President Mohammed Khatami in an effort to get Tehran to moderate its behavior. But mounting evidence of Iran’s continued repression of dissidents (including violent crackdowns by security forces against students and other pro-democracy forces in 1999 and earlier this summer) and the apparent murder of a Canadian photojournalist by security thugs this summer has made it clear this policy is a failure. When combined with Iran’s support for terrorism and the possibility that it might become a nuclear weapons state in the next few years, it becomes increasingly obvious that more pressure against the regime is necessary.
In short, following an intense pressure campaign from Washington, the IAEA has set in motion a process that could turn Iran into an international pariah state — in much the same way that Saddam’s dictatorship next door came to be understood as an outlaw regime. As if that wasn’t enough, Israel, which 22 years ago destroyed Iraq’s Osirik nuclear facility, is warning that it may take similar action against Iran. Although the Israeli action in 1981 was widely condemned, most sober-minded people subsequently came to realize that it did the rest of the world a favor. If Tehran continues to stonewall the IAEA, don’t expect too many tears to be shed in Washington if Israel manages to pull off another Osirik-type pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.