- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It looks increasingly doubtful that the Islamist regime in Iran will be penalized for its continued defiance over its nuclear weapons programs anytime soon. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times reported yesterday that Iran and the European Union were nearing an agreement in which Iran would agree to suspend uranium enrichment for 90 days. At Tehran’s insistence, negotiators led by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed to keep the temporary enrichment halt a secret. In exchange, Iran would temporarily avert the imposition of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.

The plan is said to have the support of some in the State Department, who view it as a step toward completely halting Iran’s uranium enrichment. In reality, as other administration officials (mostly in the vice president’s office and the Pentagon) persuasively argue, the deal is likely to drag the United States into a series of protracted negotiations with Iran that will gain little of substance for Washington and give Iran more time to develop a bomb. This would in effect create a trap for the United States by forcing it to negotiate against the 90-day deadline. If no agreement were reached during this period, Iran would presumably be free to resume uranium enrichment activities at the end of the three-month period. And of course, given Iran’s lengthy history of cheating — which includes nearly 20 years of covert nuclear activities — there is plenty of reason to doubt whether Tehran will adhere to even a temporary suspension.

Asked about Iran’s demand for secrecy, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday that Iran’s choices are clear: If it suspends enrichment activities in a “verifiable” way, then negotiations can begin over an incentive package offered Iran three months ago by Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China. If Iran refuses to do this, Mr. Casey said, then “we move to sanctions.”

Thus far, Iranian officials deny they have agreed to such a deal. But judging from the recent behavior of the Europeans and the Russians and Chinese, Tehran has little to fear from sanctions. The Security Council passed a resolution giving Iran until Aug. 31 to stop enrichment or face sanctions. Tehran flouted the deadline, but 27 days later negotiations continue. Moscow and Beijing have fought to delay or otherwise water down sanctions.

As Mr. Solana continues his efforts to work out what looks to be a dubious deal with Iran, new questions are being raised about whether France has been acting in good faith. Yesterday, Paris-based columnist Amir Taheri reported that President Jacques Chirac told an Iranian special emissary who visited him last week that Iran should not be asked to stop uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks, and would not have to worry about the possibility of military action in any event.

In short, it looks increasingly like the Security Council is about to send a signal of weakness and vacillation to the mullahs.

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