- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

In his February 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush demanded that Tehran “give up its uranium enrichment program and end any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror.” Shortly after that speech, he turned responsibility for handling that issue over to the European Union, which opted in essence for a diplomacy-only approach to Iran. Ten months later, Iran’s behavior has grown even more defiant and contemptuous.

Since last week, Iranian officials have been gloating over what appears to be the latest retreat by the European Union 3 (Britain, France and Germany) in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear-weapons programs: their decision not to make a resumption of talks conditional on Iran halting uranium-conversion activities.

Iranian Islamists seem increasingly certain that the Western democracies are too weak to take action against Tehran and are paralyzed by the possibility that doing so would send oil prices soaring. Parviz Soruri, a member of parliament who was a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, said that “the Americans and Europeans have realized that if they send Iran to the Security Council, this would be a big shock to the oil market and world economy, and they don’t have the capacity to absorb the shock.”

In recent days, one Iranian radical after another has declared publicly that the refusal of Washington and the Europeans to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency to act against Iran (by referring its case to the United Nations Security Council for action) vindicates Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant posture. “This showed that whenever we deal firmly with the Europeans and Americans, and if we are united within our ranks, we will force them to retreat,” said one parliamentary ally of Ahmadinejad. He added that “in the next stage” Iran “must resume uranium enrichment activities in Natanz and produce more yellowcake, too.”

As it grapples with the worsening situation in Iran, Washington needs to guard against ill-considered statements such as the one made by a senior official travelling with the president in South Korea last week: The official referred to permitting Tehran to “retain” its “right to enrichment and reprocessing” of nuclear fuel. But the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which grants these rights, also requires participants to refrain from the very cheating and concealment activities Iran has engaged in for nearly two decades. The situation is precarious enough without making gratuitous concessions to Tehran.

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