More fitting to the title of the thread than the body, but anyway…
Moment of Truth on Iran
November 22, 2004; Page A14
Well, that was quick. Last week, the governments of Britain, France and Germany cut a deal with Iran whereby the Islamic Republic agreed to a temporary suspension of its nuclear-weapons programs. Yet within hours, evidence began piling up that Tehran was already in breach. What does this mean for the Bush Administration? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s be clear on what this says about Iran’s purposes, and about Europe’s.
As everyone knows, this latest agreement rehashes a similar deal reached by the same parties in October 2003. In both cases, Iran promised not to seek nuclear weapons and pledged full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. And in both cases, Iran was given to expect that good behavior would be rewarded by European technical aid, economic assistance and diplomatic comfort.
Iran, however, violated its 2003 commitments by continuing to enrich uranium while lying to the IAEA about it. And now, it seems, it is doing that again. It is openly converting 22 tons of uranium tetrafluoride (yellow cake) into uranium hexafluoride, which can be enriched to weapons-grade levels and suffices to make five atomic bombs. An Iranian dissident group that has been right in the past has alleged the existence of an undeclared nuclear site, run by the Ministry of Defense, in the Lavizan area of Tehran. And then there is a 1,000-page dossier, recently delivered to U.S. intelligence by a “walk-in” source, which is said to contain a blueprint for a nuclear warhead adapted to Iranian ballistic missile specifications.
All of this should make it obvious that Iran fully intends to develop the nuclear bomb into which it has sunk some $16 billion over the years. It also seems obvious that Iran is using its so-called dialogue with the Europeans to win the time and diplomatic wriggle room to do so. So why are the Europeans going along with this charade? Maybe they really believe that Iranian good faith can be purchased by what they have to offer in terms of carrots and sticks. But we doubt it. Europeans are not as self-deceived as all that.
A more plausible explanation is that the Europeans are complicit with Iran in this diplomatic charade. That’s not to say Berlin, London or even Paris welcome the idea of a nuclear Iran. But they see it as a soon-to-be fact of international life that will have to be managed, just as other unsavory nuclear powers such as the Soviet Union and China were managed.
By contrast, what the Europeans really seem to dread are the potential consequences of a more determined American effort to halt Tehran, especially if that effort includes a pre-emptive military strike against Iranian nuclear installations. No wonder British Foreign Minister Jack Straw could be heard on the BBC the other day saying, “I don’t see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran. Full Stop.” Any circumstances, Minister?
This, then, is what the latest Iranian-European deal is about. It is not mainly intended to stop Iran from getting a bomb. Mainly, it is intended to stop the U.S. from stopping Iran.
For the Bush Administration, this is the moment of truth. Because nobody knows exactly how close Iran is to producing a weapon, giving diplomacy a chance for the next six or 12 or 24 months is tantamount to acquiescing to a nuclear Iran. What the Europeans are tacitly offering President Bush is a face-saving way of doing just that. And we must concede that passing the buck to Europe would be a fine chance, if Mr. Bush wished to take it, to mend trans-Atlantic relations, repay Tony Blair for support in Iraq, and climb down from his first-term pledge that the world’s most dangerous regimes will not be allowed to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons. It would also spare the President from possibly having to make some difficult and fateful decisions about a pre-emptive strike.
Then again, if the President is prepared to see Iran go nuclear, he must also be prepared to abandon the doctrine that famously goes under his name. “We make no distinction,” says the 2002 National Security Strategy, “between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them.” How is this to be enforced once the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism builds a nuclear fence around itself? Another key tenet of that strategy is to prevent the emergence of dominant regional powers. But it is hard to see how the U.S. could restrain a nuclear Iran from playing precisely that role, its influence spreading wide in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Caspian and the Gulf.
We are not suggesting that the only feasible alternative to Europe’s current effort is military action. But as Mr. Bush considers his options, it’s important that everyone acknowledges just what the Europeans are offering. It is not diplomacy with the country of Iran. It is pre-emptive capitulation in the war on terror. Surely that’s not what the American people intended when they returned this President to office.