- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

As the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors prepares for its quarterly meeting in Vienna, Austria, the press is breathlessly playing up what is said to be good news about Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons: that Iran permitted IAEA inspectors to visit a uranium-enrichment facility last week, and that the agency says it has verified that the regime has frozen its activities there. But unfortunately the significance of this is questionable. The Iranian government says the freeze will last only until the end of next month, when the European Union 3 — Britain, France and Germany — are to come up with new incentives to get Iran to stop its questionable nuclear activities — or else.

Still, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday, following talks with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, that the United States fully supports the EU negotiations with Iran and hopes that Tehran will demonstrate “that it is prepared to live up to its international obligations.”

But for now there is little possibility that Washington will make much headway in persuading the Europeans or the IAEA to call the Islamic Republic to account for its nuclear activities. For one thing, the EU 3 will almost certainly resist any efforts to penalize Iran now, on grounds that a new Iranian president will be elected on Friday, and that he needs time to form a new government, etc.

Beyond this, it is very much open to question whether the IAEA or Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei will ever prove capable of preventing a determined rogue state like Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In his new book, “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran,” which comes out today, veteran Washington journalist Kenneth Timmerman demonstrates how Mr. ElBaradei has repeatedly worked to prevent evidence of Iranian duplicity from coming to light. One of the more troubling examples of malfeasance on Mr. ElBaradei’s part took place in March 2000, after the German federal intelligence service BND warned that Iran was gaining knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle “that can be used to build nuclear weapons.” Mr. ElBaradei responded by ordering his press spokesman to deny the existence of the information. Two months later, he flew to Iran to meet with President Mohammed Khatami; Mr. ElBaradei declared that Iran’s nuclear activities were totally peaceful, even though Iran had already broken ground on an industrial-scale uranium conversion plant that would permit it to convert large amounts of natural uranium into feedstock for its centrifuge enrichment facility.

This has been the pattern for Mr. ElBaradei when it comes to whitewashing Tehran’s troubling behavior. In late 2003, after the IAEA belatedly issued a report documenting nearly two decades of Iranian cheating, Mr. ElBaradei still attempted to claim that the IAEA did not know if Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons. Despite his lackluster performance, Washington last week agreed to drop its opposition to giving Mr. ElBaradei a third term as head of the IAEA.

When it comes to the Bush administration’s general approach to the Iranian nuclear threat, the questions and criticisms fall into two main categories: 1) dubious complaints from Democratic partisans looking to score cheap debating points; and 2) legitimate concerns as to whether the Bush administration — or anyone else, for that matter — has a plan for neutralizing the Iranian threat.

In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, Steve Andreasen, a former National Security Council staffer in the Clinton administration, provided an example of questionable criticism, accusing the Bush administration of pursuing a policy of “passive appeasement” toward Iran. But Mr. Andreasen’s suggested alternative appears to be nothing more than having the Bush administration bribe Iran into behaving by providing it with foreign aid and security concessions.

On the second point, however, there is good reason to question whether the next step in dealing with Iran — persuading the Europeans to join Washington in referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council if it continues to cheat — is workable. For one thing, it is not difficult to imagine Russia or China, both military suppliers to Iran, vetoing any meaningful Security Council resolution imposing sanctions. And even if such a resolution makes it out of the Security Council, what exactly would that achieve? Although a resolution imposing sanctions would be a significant political blow to Iran and would hurt the regime economically, there is absolutely no way of knowing whether it would be sufficient to stop Iran from producing atomic weapons — if it does not already have them.

The unhappy reality is that, so long as the mullahs control Iran, the regime and its weapons will remain a danger to world peace and security.

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