- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

As the North Korean missile tests and Iran’s continued refusal to come clean about its nuclear weapons programs make clear, Washington and its allies face a difficult, if not impossible, task: persuading two of the most lawless, despotic governments in the world to change their behavior. Given the challenges inherent in achieving this, it makes no sense to continue setting deadlines which are routinely ignored, as the Bush administration and the Europeans continue to do in the case of Iran; if permitted to continue unabated, a mindless proliferation of bogus “deadlines” will undermine U.S. and Western credibility. Yet that’s exactly what is now taking place.

The policy reflects the pratfalls of President Bush’s decision to support a compromise plan advocated by the European Union, which has long taken a softer line toward Tehran. The European plan was to, in effect, use a combination of economic and diplomatic carrots and sticks in order to bribe Iran into agreeing to a moratorium on uranium enrichment; the idea was that if Iran refuses to go along, it will face some package of U.N. sanctions. (In addition, Washington hoped to persuade Russia and China to support — or at least not block — U.N. sanctions if Tehran remained intransigent.)

Instead, this formula has degenerated into diplomatic farce, as Iran routinely ignores “deadlines” without suffering any real consequences. Last month, President Bush stated forcefully that Iran has “weeks, not months” to decide. He added that should Iran miss deadlines and fail to freeze enrichment, it would have to face “stronger political and economic sanctions.”

Unfortunately, since that time, the Europeans have been sending a relatively weak, muddled message that will only embolden the Iranians. The AFP news agency reported June 20 that in an interview, “several European officials announced that Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, gave Iran until June 29th to come up with an official and final answer regarding the … package the Islamic republic was presented with on June 6th.” But another unidentified diplomat quoted in the same story told the news agency that the deadline was actually much more flexible: “If they [the Iranians] ask for a little bit more time, I’m sure that we will give it to them.”

On Monday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Solana said the Europeans expected an official response by yesterday, when Mr. Solana met with senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani. But the Associated Press reported Monday that other European officials said that if Mr. Larijani wanted to make a counterproposal, Iran could have another week. In essence, the deadline is not a serious one and virtually everyone understands this. (Iran says it will respond by mid-August.)

North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il — who already has nuclear weapons of his own — is doubtless watching as the West tries, without any apparent success, to change Iran’s behavior using diplomatic means. If the international community continues to project weakness and indecision in dealing with Tehran, it will further embolden Pyongyang.

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