- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

As the International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing board prepares for its meeting today — during which it will discuss Iran’s nuclear weapons program — the radical Iranian regime’s defiance is growing. Washington has apparently won agreement from the European Union 3 (Britain, France and Germany) to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council if Iran does not end its bid to produce nuclear weapons by November — the date of the next IAEA board meeting. But it remains to be seen whether the Europeans or other Security Council members will have any more of an appetite for taking serious action two months from now than they do today, which is not very much.

As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dick Lugar noted in this newspaper Saturday, it is now close to two years since it became clear that Iran has been cheating. Nearly one year ago, Iran told the EU 3 that it would stop enriching uranium usable in a nuclear weapon. The regime lied and has resumed uranium-enrichment activities. The IAEA has also confirmed that Iran is producing uranium hexafluoride — a critical step in making bomb-grade uranium. In short, decent people and democratic regimes have tried inducements and engagement to give the mullahs a way to gracefully end their nuclear-weapons quest. Every effort to do so has been an abject failure.

Yet, despite this record, some supporters of engagement in this country refuse to accept reality. Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that the problem can only be resolved by engaging the regime (i.e., making more unreciprocated concessions) in more areas. The man who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser when the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power a quarter-century ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski, complains that using “strong-arm tactics” against this brutal dictatorship would be “disastrous for the United States.” John Kerry has spent the campaign upbraiding President Bush for not being conciliatory enough and engaging the mullahs.

In fact, President Bush has deferred to the Europeans and given this approach every reasonable opportunity to work. But the reality is that the EU 3-Brzezinski-Kerry approach is a failure that cannot be salvaged. While it has been in place, Iran “has secretly built a large pilot uranium-enrichment complex, a far larger, weapons-scale underground enrichment plant, and conducted a clandestine laser isotope separation program, all clearly banned” by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran has signed, Mr. Lugar notes. “As an oil-rich state with a single, unfinished nuclear power plant, there can only be one explanation: Iran is constructing a weapons complex.”

Despite Iran’s abysmal compliance record, there might be a case for giving this diplomatic approach more time but for this salient reality: In dealing with A-bomb aspirants like the Iranian government, time is on the side of the bad guys. Every delay gives Iran new opportunities to attempt to produce nuclear weapons secretly. Yesterday, the world received yet another reminder of how serious Tehran apparently is: The London Telegraph reported that last week, Iran told the IAEA of its intention to start processing 37 tons of uranium yellowcake, which Western officials estimate will yield enough weapons-grade material for as many as five nuclear bombs. Iran claims the yellowcake is for nuclear power stations. But intelligence officials told the Telegraph that Iran wants to drag out the negotiations to buy itself more time to produce weapons.

Even British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw — who has generally been an enthusiast about engagement with Tehran —seems to be running out of patience. A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office called on Tehran to suspend all its nuclear activities, including the processing of yellowcake. The key question now is whether the Europeans are prepared to do something meaningful to change Iran’s behavior or change the regime.

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