Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Saturday’s resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council for further action is not just a slap on the wrist, as skeptics of the United Nations might legitimately suspect.

On the contrary, it demonstrates a remarkable consensus among nations few would consider as U.S. allies that Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses a clear and present danger to the world at large.

Only three countries voted against the strongly worded resolution: Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. Consider them newly-minted allies with Iran in an axis of insanity. (And hold on to your wallet when Venezuela’s anti-gringo President Hugo Chavez, who exports 2 million barrels of oil daily, joins Iran in efforts to ratchet up the price of oil to chill our resolve.

Voting with the United States were not only Russia and China, whose agreement was essential to ratcheting up the press on Iran, but Egypt and Yemen and India. Getting these five to join us and the Europeans was a major accomplishment. It has required extraordinary diplomatic efforts — from an administration ridiculed by Democrats for its “unilateral” approach to world affairs.

Three individuals and two pieces of information have been key to this success.

• Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Just two days before the IAEA board met in Vienna, Miss Rice won agreement from the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany to send Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. For her skill at muscle diplomacy, she deserves our praise.

• The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Behind closed doors, Mr. Bolton has made it clear the Bush administration will watch and judge the U.N. Security Council performance very closely as it takes on Iran’s case.

If the Council cannot rally to punish a regime that has openly called for destroying two U.N. member states (Israel and the United States), the U.N. may not be worth preserving. The notion the United States could pursue “other venues” besides the U.N. for international crisis management and cooperation — such as a Council of Democracies — has been sobering.

• The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte. This low-key Bush appointee had dedicated his every waking moment to convince members of the IAEA board of governors of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, and is personally responsible for winning support from unlikely corners. He has proved to be the right man at the right time.

Two critical pieces of information also helped convince world leaders that “no reasonable doubt” could remain as to Iran’s nuclear intentions.

(1) The walk-in’s laptop. Around 18 months ago, an Iranian missile technician walked into a U.S. Embassy. For once, the CIA responded as spy movies would have us believe is the norm: They actually listened to him, instead of rejecting his “stories” as “fabrications” that were “unverifiable.”

The defector’s information was considered credible because it was limited and highly detailed, U.S. officials revealed. Documents on his laptop showed the Iranians were redesigning the re-entry vehicle of the Shahab-3 missile — the one the Revolutionary Guards parade in Tehran with banners vowing it will “wipe Israel off the map” — to carry a nuclear payload.

(2) The Khan documents. The head of the IAEA’s safeguards division, Ollie Heinonen, told the IAEA board about the second smoking gun during a briefing last Thursday. It was a 15-page document the Iranians obtained from the nuclear black market of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan that detailed the process of “casting and machining” highly enriched uranium into “hemispherical forms.” That turned the heads of all but the comatose. As Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph said last week, “We know of no application for such hemispheres other than nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Heinonen detailed these and other findings in a remarkable four-page report to the IAEA board. Diplomats in Vienna called it a “bold departure” from earlier IAEA reports because it “explicitly referred twice to nuclear weapons” activity in Iran.

It has taken the world 19 years to wake up to what should have been obvious the minute Iran signed its first consulting contract with A.Q. Khan in 1987. Now the showdown over what to do about it begins.

My advice: Fasten your seat belts, because we’re in for a rough ride. And don’t think for a minute all the threats out of Tehran are mere bluster.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of the Middle East Data Project Inc. and author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.”

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