Friday, November 17, 2006

The latest report on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency, circulated to diplomats in Vienna on Tuesday, shows Iran has again failed to comply with the demands of the international community, as expressed by the U.N. Security Council.

The IAEA report documented that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium on a large-scale in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolution 1696. It also said IAEA inspectors had found stashes of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium hidden at an Iranian nuclear waste site. Both materials are directly useful in building atomic weapons but cannot be used in Iran’s declared nuclear power program.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696, passed on July 31, gave Iran until the end of last August to verifiably suspend all enrichment and reprocessing-related activities. If Iran complied, the resolution opened the possibility of economic aid and technology assistance. But if Iran failed to comply, it called for economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Nearly three months have passed since that deadline. Instead of complying, Iran’s leaders have chosen open defiance — bolstered in no small way by support from Russia, China and IAEA Secretary General Mohammad ElBaradei, whose rosy pronouncements of Peace in Our Time would be comic if the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran were not so real.

In their latest reply to polite questions from Mr. ElBaradei’s IAEA, the Iranians said they have no intention of cooperating further with the agency until “the nuclear dossier is returned back in full in the framework of the agency.” Translated into Brooklyn English: They are flipping us the bird.

But just in case we weren’t able or willing to separate out this message from the diplomatic cotton candy, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did us all a favor by clarifying his regime’s intentions in remarks on Tuesday.

“I’m very hopeful that we will be able to hold the big celebration of Iran’s full nuclearization in the current year,” he said. (The Persian calendar year ends March 20.)

“Initially, they [the U.S. and its allies] were very angry,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “Today, they have finally agreed to live with a nuclear Iran, with an Iran possessing [the whole] nuclear fuel cycle.”

Nuclear experts in the United States, Israel and Europe agree that mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle will give Iran the ability to make nuclear weapons virtually unimpeded by international restraints. No wonder Mr. Ahmadinejad is so happy, and continues to defy the IAEA. Until now, no one has made Iran pay a price for its defiance. Every minute’s delay in enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696 brings Iran closer to the bomb.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with President Bush in the Oval Office. Their discussions focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Bush told Mr. Olmert that the world must isolate Iran until it “gives up its nuclear ambitions.” Mr. Olmert repeated Israel’s assessment that Tehran’s goal is to “wipe Israel off the map,” as Iranian leaders have repeatedly stated.

So here we are again, doing the same old kabuki dance. The United States, Israel and most of Europe agree Iran can not, must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons; and Iran simply ignores us and continues down the nuclear path.

How long can we tolerate Iran’s defiance of a very clear U.N. Security Council deadline? If there is no enforcement of those deadlines, does a U.N. Security Council threat mean anything at all?

These are questions we faced just four years ago in deliberating Saddam Hussein’s defiance of 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 12, 2002, President Bush noted Iraq had “answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance.”

The United Nations and the world “faces a test,” he said then. “Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?”

We face precisely those same questions today when it comes to Iran.

So what will it be, Mr. President? Does the United States mean business? Does the United Nations mean anything? Will free nations stand up to tyrannies openly seeking to acquire nuclear weapons to hold their enemies hostage?

The clock is ticking.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is president of Middle East Data Project Inc. and author of “Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran” (Crown Forum).

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