Monday, September 3, 2007

BERN, Switzerland.

After a brief interruption of his New Hampshire vacation to meet President Bush in the family compound at Kenebunkport, Maine, French President Nicolas Sarkozy came away convinced his U.S. counterpart is serious about bombing Iran‘s secret nuclear facilities. That’s the reading as it filtered back to Europe’s foreign ministries:

Addressing the annual meeting of France’s ambassadors to 188 countries, Mr. Sarkozy said either Iran lives up to its international obligations and relinquishes its nuclear ambitions — or it will be bombed into compliance. Mr. Sarkozy also made it clear he did not agree with the Iranian-bomb-or-bombing-of-Iran position, which reflects the pledge of Mr. Bush to his loyalists, endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Independent. But Mr. Sarkozy recognized unless Iran’s theocrats stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), we will all be “faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic.”

A ranking Swiss official privately said, “Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests.”

Leaks about the administration’s plan to brand Iran’s 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guards a global terrorist organization is widely interpreted as a major step on the escalator to military action. Belatedly, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin for the training of 35,000 elite guards to be assigned to protect the kingdom’s widely scattered oil installations. With 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Riyadh has earmarked $5 billion to train and field as soon as possible a high-tech force. Eighteen months ago, the desert kingdom was jolted by an al Qaeda terrorist squad that managed to penetrate the first two layers of defenses at Abqaiq, the nerve center of the entire oil infrastructure.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now stated publicly his country holds the key to the conditions of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, much criticized by the United States for his lack of leadership, and who has been deserted by half his Cabinet, is much praised in Tehran, where he has gone twice in 11 months to confer with Iranian leaders. Mr. Ahmadinejad also says Iran is ready to fill the power vacuum in Iraq following a U.S. withdrawal. “The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly,” he said, “and soon we will see a huge power vacuum in the region.”

The United States is not alone in trying to prove Mr. Ahmadinejad’s geopolitical weather forecast wrong. Saudi Arabia and its five Gulf Cooperation Council allies in the Gulf, Egypt and Jordan, are terrified at the idea of Iraq falling under Iranian domination.

Hoping to head off a U.S.-Iran military confrontation, European countries are still pinning their hopes on major Iranian concessions at the International Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna. Iran is back to cooperating with IAEA — but only one comma or semicolon at a time. The three European Union countries acting as U.S. surrogates on nuclear matters with Iran, and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, detect progress where the U.S. sees only stalling. Iran is still resisting short-notice inspections of sites that are not officially declared nuclear facilities, and where secret nuclear work is believed to be taking place.

Tehran’s only objective at the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council is to head off further economic sanctions from its major EU trading partners. Thus the mantra that its only interest in nuclear matters is as an alternative source of energy in a country already awash in oil taxes credulity.

Both the Bush administration and Israel are painstakingly fashioning a casus belli with Iran. For Israel, the training and weapons support Iran furnishes Hezbollah in Lebanon (now with more rockets of all kinds than it had before the 2006 war when it fired 4,000 into Israel) and Hamas in Gaza (now equipped with Katyusha rockets and a range of 10.6 miles), coupled with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s existential threats against the Jewish state, are sufficient evidence to justify air attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities. And for the White House, there is daily evidence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards meddling in Iraq, from improved explosive devices made in Iran to behind-the-scenes dominance in the affairs of the oil-rich south.

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

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