The Mullahs' Promise
October 22, 2003
The Wall Street Journal
Review & Outlook
Anything that gets an Iranian promise to suspend its program to enrich uranium can't be dismissed out of hand. So on that score at least, yesterday's agreement between Iran and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany deserves a cheer. But only one.
Reading the brief text of the agreement that Iran struck with the "Big Three" foreign ministers in Tehran yesterday, it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that what resulted was largely a fudge, with the hard questions left unanswered.
The three embarked on the diplomatic mission with only 10 days remaining before an October 31 International Atomic Energy Agency deadline. If Iran fails to comply with the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency's demands by that date (including signing an additional protocol, which was also agreed yesterday), it could be declared in breach of its IAEA obligations and have its violation referred to the U.N. Security Council.
Iran had every reason to avoid that declaration. A Security Council referral would prompt Washington to lobby hard for punitive measures, possibly sanctions. Britain, France and Germany have all expressed concern over the IAEA's findings in Iran -- including the discovery of a large enrichment plant under construction in Natanz and two samples showing the presence of weapons-grade uranium. In the absence of yesterday's concessions, those countries would have been obligated to support some kind of punitive action, however interested they are for their own reasons in avoiding a confrontation.
And yet yesterday's deal may not so much have avoided confrontation as postponed it. The brief agreement does not specify how long the "suspension" of uranium enrichment will last or when it will start or even how it will be verified. It's also not clear how the agreement will affect Iran's new best friend and nuclear supplier, Moscow.
Russia has a great deal invested in Iran staying on the right side of the IAEA. There are lucrative contracts selling nuclear technology to defend. And Russia's close relationship with Tehran gives it added leverage that is useful in other negotiations with Washington. Of course, longer term, Russia has no more interest in a nuclear-armed Iran than does the U.S. It would create regional instability (encouraging other states in the neighborhood to acquire their own weapons) and might make Iran bolder in spreading its version of theocracy to other Muslim-dominated areas, including parts of Russia.
At the moment, Russia seems to think it can have it both ways, mainly by denying that Iran has any intention to develop nuclear weapons and claiming that nothing Russia is selling it would serve that purpose. But Iran's long resistance to giving up uranium enrichment is highly suggestive of its weapons intentions, whatever Moscow says. The light-water reactors that Russia is helping the mullahs build also produce large amounts of plutonium that could be used to make weapons on very short notice. The obvious concern is that Iran will insist that it is complying with its non-proliferation promises right up to the moment that it is ready to explode a bomb.
The main proliferation problem is less nuclear technology than the nature of the regimes that have it. In Iran the danger flows from the mullahs who control the country and want to oust the U.S. from the Middle East. Yesterday's European diplomacy may have bought all sides some time, but no one should be under the illusion that it removes the threat. http://iranvajahan.net/cgi-bin/news.pl?l=en&y=2003&m=10&d=22&a=7