- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

A scuffle in the mullahs’ nuclear wheelhouse? More than likely with the arrest on suspected national security violations of Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator for the Iranian regime, and a diplomat widely respected by his Western European interlocutors. He is a former ambassador to Germany.

While maintaining the official fiction Iran was only interested in peaceful nuclear power, Mr. Mousavian reportedly told his own clerical superiors he favored “more ambiguity” that would take Iran to the point of being able to produce a nuclear weapon in a matter of months, but hold off on actually acquiring a deliverable nuke.

Mr. Mousavian has also praised to some of his Tehran-based diplomatic friends what Libya’s Col. Moammar Gadhafi did in December 2003. Fearing a U.S. invasion following the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime, he turned over to British and U.S. intelligence the still unopened nuclear weapons kit bought from Pakistan’s Dr. A.Q. Khan’s nuclear Wal-Mart. This, in turn, lifted all Western economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Released on bail a week later, Mr. Mousavian’s close friendship with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who ran again in 2005 and was defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clearly saved him from pending charges of “treason.”

Iranian hard-liners, including the Pasdaran or Revolutionary Guards establishment, argue the United States could not prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Nor could it stop Pakistan from becoming a major nuclear power. So how could a 3,000-year-old civilization and one-time empire be deprived of the modern badge of power? They also say that five of the world’s eight nuclear powers have bracketed Iran — Russia to the north, Israel to the west, Pakistan and India to the east, and nuclear-armed U.S. aircraft carriers to the south — and therefore it is incumbent upon their leaders to give their country the deterrent power nuclear weapons confer.

On the heels of his blunt warning to Iran from the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier in nearby waters, Vice President Richard Cheney dropped in on UAE leaders to reassure them the U.S. is steadfast in its determination to prevent the mullahs acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mr. Ahmadinejad quickly followed Mr. Cheney across the Gulf to warn UAE leaders against their defense arrangements with the U.S.

The politico-religious ideologues at the top have convinced themselves that Israel’s nuclear arsenal cannot go unchallenged. It requires an Iranian deterrent. Its leadership of Shia Islam — and of Islam’s underprivileged Shi’ites — cannot be secured without the nuclear badge. Israel understandably sees Iran as an existential threat that requires an Israeli nuclear capability, which now ranges from submarine-launched, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to deep penetration bombs.

The Revolutionary Guards seem hell-bent on acquiring the ultimate weapon. One of their own former commanders, Mr. Ahmadinejad himself, challenges the Western powers with faits accomplis. North Korea’s route to nukes is their model. A pro-Ahmadinejad Web site forecast a trial for the 15 British sailors and marines kidnapped last March by Revolutionary Guards at sea. Higher authority decided otherwise and released them. Whether this was designed to show a tad more polish than Pyongyang’s MO, or to indicate a willingness to negotiate seriously with Western powers over Iraq, is not known.

Following the recent conclusion of a two-day, 50-nation conference on Iraq’s future in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Time magazine his government wanted talks with U.S. officials. But he wasn’t interested in bumping into Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Ministers of foreign affairs don’t just meet accidentally,” he said. And Miss Rice rejoined, “the opportunity simply didn’t arise, I would have taken [it].”

Mr. Mottaki walked out of a dinner at which Egyptian protocol had placed him within easy talking range of Miss Rice, ostensibly because he was shocked by the low cut red dress worn by a woman violinist who provided background music. The Bush administration wants an understanding with Iran that would end the conflict in Iraq. And Iran, at the highest clerical level, above Mr. Ahmadinejad’s pay grade, wants to end the 28-year-old break in diplomatic relations following the overthrow of the pro-U.S. shah’s absolute monarchy, and the seizure of 52 U.S. diplomatic hostages by student radicals (held for 444 days until minutes after Ronald Reagan’s inaugural).

If Mr. Bush were willing to talk geopolitical turkey with Iran’s ranking theocrats, putting diplomatic recognition, an end to all sanctions, and a non-aggression treaty on the table in return for (1) Tehran ending uranium enrichment and resuming full international monitoring of all its nuclear facilities; (2) ending all support for terrorist activities; (3) non-interference in Iraq — a promising deal could be negotiated. But to insist that Iran end all nuclear fuel activities before the U.S. is willing to embark on a bilateral negotiating track is a diplomatic cul-de-sac.

Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany’s negotiations with Iran over uranium enrichment will continue between Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s National Security Council, and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Mr. Ahmadinejad continues to barnstorm Iran’s towns and cities with the pledge to resist foreign attempts to curtail the country’s “peaceful” development of nuclear technology.

“If we retreat in our nuclear issues tomorrow,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “they will have a problem with our missiles development.” In an interview with Jomohouri Eslami newspaper, he also said Iran has now obtained “the technology for mass production of centrifuges.”

The twin, low poll numbers of Israel’s Ehud Olmert (4 percent) over last summer’s ill-fated war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and George W. Bush (24 percent) over the Iraq war, now longer than America’s involvement in World War II, have led some hard-nosed observers to look askance at Iran. Mr. Bush is determined to dismantle the nuclear ambitions of Islamist extremists before he leaves office. So the military option in the form of air strikes, including cruise missiles, remains on the table.

Some British and Russian experts believe Iran will test a North Korean-designed, plutonium-based nuclear device underground in the fall. Others among the same group of experts say it will be an enriched uranium device fueled by pre-enriched uranium feed stock obtained on the international black market. Dr. A.Q. Khan, who fathered Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal, also supplied weapons know-how to both North Korea and Iran. He maintained close relations with both regimes.

Iran thumbed its nose at the Western powers by running ads in the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, both global newspapers, seeking bids for two large-scale nuclear reactors. The ad also appeared in Israel where the IHT is distributed with the English version of the daily Ha’aretz. Iranian chutzpah.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and United Press International.

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