Monday, March 7, 2005

PARIS. — The European effort to induce Iran to give up its nuclear program crashed and burned when Iranian Vice President Hassan Rohani told French President Jacques Chirac recently that Iran will not give up uranium enrichment.

Sources close to the French president tell me Mr. Rohani’s steadfast refusal to offer any serious commitment to giving up its suspect nuclear programs convinced Mr. Chirac to join the U.S. in stepping up pressure on Iran, including an eventual referral to the United Nations Security Council.

But in Washington, advisers to President Bush now suggest the United States join a failed European effort to offer new inducements to Iran, including membership in the World Trade Organization and billions of dollars of civilian airliners.

This is the wrong time to offer more carrots to Iran. For nearly 20 years, Iran has pursued a clandestine nuclear weapons program while suffering through U.S. sanctions and a trade embargo. Mr. Rohani laughed at Mr. Chirac’s insistence that Iran abandon those programs now, especially after all the “blood and tears” Iran shed to acquire them.

The clock is ticking on Iran’s bomb:

On March 1, IAEA Deputy Director General Pierre Goldschmidt told the Governing Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that Iran still refused to allow inspectors to visit key nuclear sites. The suspect sites and capabilities cited by Mr. Goldschmidt that Iran so desperately protects coincide precisely with the capabilities Iran needs to build the bomb.

• In Isfahan, the Iranians have been producing uranium hexafluoride (UF6) feedstock for enrichment purposes. The IAEA has never believed their claim they built an industrial-scale plant without testing the production line in a smaller, pilot plant. It now appears increasingly likely Iran built a pilot plant in hardened underground facilities it won’t allow the agency to inspect, and has been producing UF6 there secretly for years.

• Iran keeps refusing to account for the activities of a facility at the sprawling defense production complex at Lavisan-Shian in Tehran. It razed the site in late 2003 to prevent the IAEA for discovering what had been done there. It now seems probable Iran set up a secret enrichment cascade at Lavisan-Shian and has been enriching uranium there for years.

• Iran continues to refuse access to facilities at the Parchin military production plant south of Tehran, where it also produces RDX explosives, precisely the type of high-powered explosives needed for the non-nuclear “lenses” that trigger a nuclear implosion device. It now appears Iran was probably conducting secret weaponization work at Parchin.

And the IAEA is finally discovering what many analysts who tracked Iran the last 15 years have known for some time: Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan has helped Iran since 1987.

As I reveal in an upcoming book, Mr. Khan first went to Iran in 1986 and signed a nuclear consulting agreement with the regime in early 1987. Now the IAEA has stumbled upon parts of the contract, including lists of equipment provided by the elusive Mr. Khan. It includes a veritable Stop ‘N Shop of uranium enrichment equipment.

No one knows for sure exactly how much uranium Iran has enriched in secret. But if Iran used the equipment we now know it bought from the Khan network over the last decade, they could now be able to produce 20 to 25 weapons.

President Bush’s advisers ill-serve the president, the nation and, indeed, future generations by suggesting it is still possible to cut a deal with Iran that will allow the mullahs to retain the capabilities to build more bombs. It is time for more forceful action and there is not a moment to lose.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran,” forthcoming from Crown Forum.

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