The Islamic Regime Poses Serious Threat
August 05, 2003
The Denver Post
Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power, a prospect that could threaten world peace by destabilizing the already volatile Middle East and Persian Gulf regions. Iran also may have medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, Turkey and parts of Europe. The Bush administration, unfortunately, has few options for dealing with the situation.
To understand how close the nightmare is to reality, it helps to put recent news accounts in perspective. To do so, it's useful to know a little about how nuclear bombs work.
In simple terms, Iran needs to solve two technical problems to make its atomic bombs work.
One is to develop highly enriched uranium, an element that can be made to fission, or be flung apart at the atomic level. Unlike Iraq, which would have had to buy or steal the prized uranium, Iran could become self-sufficient in enriched uranium. It has vast natural deposits of uranium ore, so it needn't buy the basic materials from abroad. It also has constructed facilities that turn uranium into enriched uranium. Among them are the hundreds of centrifuges that international weapons inspectors discovered this spring about 200 miles south of Teheran.
The second crucial technical challenge is making plutonium, an element that doesn't exist in nature but can be created inside some types of nuclear reactors. Iran is building exactly the kinds of nuclear reactors that make plutonium - a major worry for the Bush administration. If Iran's goal was just to produce electricity, as it claims, it wouldn't need these sorts of reactors.
All Iran needs now is a little more know-how and machinery, and the sponsor of international terrorism will possess the ultimate political and diplomatic sledgehammer.
The conundrum for the Bush administration is how to stop Iran from taking these final steps. Unlike Iraq, Iran isn't burdened by a bevy of United Nations resolutions, so the Bush administration must build a case against Iran's weapons program almost from scratch.
U.S. military action would entail more serious risks than war in Iraq. For example, Iran has a formidable military, including a submarine fleet. Worse, if Iran is closer to building nuclear weapons than experts believe, a military confrontation could have unthinkable consequences.
The United States needs international help in curbing the Iranian threat. Since the prospect of a nuclear Iran would unsettle the global security calculus, the United States may find numerous allies in this matter.
Russia is largely responsible for getting Iran to this worrisome point because Moscow for years sold Teheran important machinery - and perhaps supplied scientists and technicians as well. This summer, though, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern about Iran's nuclear program. While belated, Putin's public worry is welcome. Even Moscow, it seems, doesn't want a radical regime across its backyard fence to become a nuclear menace.
In addition, it was the International Atomic Energy Agency that reported that Iran possesses the centrifuges - which are forbidden by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Iran signed years ago. The IAEA didn't declare Iran in violation of the treaty, as the Bush administration wanted it to do. Still, the IAEA report all but invited the U.N. Security Council to act. The Security Council should do so.
Meanwhile, the United States should encourage political factions in Iran that want to replace the current repressive, corrupt regime with a more open, tolerant government. Hardliners may use any bullying by the Bush administration to shore up support for the tottering Teheran regime. So, U.S. support for political change must be quiet and largely behind the scenes.
Neither move removes the problem. But together, they represent ways for the United States and the United Nations to start solving the dangerous puzzle. http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~417~1551681,00.html