- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

With extraordinary clarity, President Bush made clear in an interview published over the weekend that he has no illusions about the behavior of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or what is at stake in the nuclear crisis with Iran. “When he says that he wants to destroy Israel, the world needs to take it seriously,” Mr. Bush said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, a German newspaper. According to an unofficial transcript of the Bild interview, Mr. Bush also said: “This is a serious threat, aimed at an ally of the United States and Germany. What Ahmadinejad also means is that if he is ready to destroy one country, then he would also be ready to destroy others. This is a threat that needs to be dealt with.”

The interview follows Mr. Bush’s meeting at the White House last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who the president described as a key partner in the international drive to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. While Mrs. Merkel is a friend of the United States who has done much to change the poisonous relationship with Washington that was the legacy of her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, Germany and the European Union generally still appear to be paralyzed by fear and indecision when it comes to Iran. For example, Mrs. Merkel’s own defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, was quoted by the New York Times on Wednesday as stating that it would be difficult to achieve diplomatic success without direct talks between the United States and Iran.

In terms of concrete progress toward eliminating Iranian nuclear weapons programs, the diplomatic route has thus far apparently yielded little of consequence. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns on Tuesday told reporters in Paris (where the United States was holding preliminary discussions with representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in an effort to find common ground on the Iran question) that the U.N. Security Council has “no option” but to take action against Iran under Chapter 7 — a provision of the U.N. charter that makes resolutions binding under international law and could be a precursor to sanctions or military action. The six nations are schduled to resume discussions over dinner in New York tonight.

However, anyone expecting meaningful action to force Iran’s hand (be it sanctions or military action) to come out of these talks anytime soon will likely be disappointed. Russia and China remain steadfast in working to weaken or block outright sanctions. Moreover, Mr. Burns said that sanctions on oil and gas (in another words, painful ones that might actually hamper the regime’s ability to finance weapons research and terrorism) would come only later, if negotiations failed. He said it could take a month or two of negotiations and/or debate to produce a Security Council resolution. That timetable provides Mr. Ahmadinejad and his regime more time to threaten and intimidate other nations who might be tempted to support sanctions.

And indeed, making threats is precisely what Iran has been doing, On Tuesday, for example, a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards hinted that the regime would respond to U.S. military action in much the same way that Saddam Hussein did 15 years ago when the first President Bush went to war to liberate Kuwait: by attacking Israel. Yesterday Mr. Ahmadinejad threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Europeans cannot dismiss such threats as idle bluster. As James Hackett, who carefully monitors Iran’s weapons programs, wrote in this newspaper April 28, Iran’s Shahab-3 missile, with a range of 800 miles, can reach all of Israel. Were it to combine that with Iran’s Shahab-2, the missile’s range would be extended to more than 2,000 miles, enabling it to reach Berlin. Iran has between 50 and 100 Shahabs and is thought to be building one a month. This combination of ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons and revolutionary Islamist ideology is what makes the Iranian government so dangerous.

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