Friday, October 24, 2003

Realism About Iran in the Strangest of Places

I never thought I'd see the day when an article as hard-headed as this one would appear on the opinion pages of the New York Times. What is going on in that august journalistic establishment? At this rate, we might even get an admission that Walter Duranty was an apologist for mass murder some day ...

The Mullahs and the Bomb

Published: October 23, 2003

WASHINGTON — With much fanfare, and the reluctant endorsement of the Bush administration, Iran has vowed to suspend its controversial effort to produce enriched uranium — which can be used as fuel in nuclear weapons — and to clear up a host of suspicions about its nuclear program. In exchange, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany promised new "cooperation" — meaning trade — in high technology with Tehran. While perhaps getting any concessions out of the mullahs should be seen as a step forward, this particular deal won't prevent Iran from making the bomb. It also risks having the same outcome as the deal North Korea made in 1994 and later violated, and threatens to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies on Iran policy.

The suspicions about Iran's nuclear aims are well founded. Leaving aside the question whether such an oil-rich country even needs nuclear power plants, America has long questioned why Iran is building a factory to enrich uranium, material for which there is no reasonable need in Iran's civilian power program.

Iran also plans to produce plutonium, another fuel for nuclear weapons, by building a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor at Arak. This type of reactor, too small for electricity and larger than needed for research, is now providing the fuel for atomic weapons programs in India, Israel and Pakistan. And Iran is developing a fleet of long-range missiles, which don't make sense as a way to deliver conventional warheads. The only logical purpose of such missiles is to carry nuclear ones.


North Korea faced worldwide condemnation and a possible war with the United States after violating its inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. By agreeing to suspend its effort to produce plutonium, North Korea avoided censure and got economic benefits from the West, and yet it preserved its nuclear potential intact. North Korea's 8,000 fuel rods — containing five bombs' worth of plutonium — never left the country. Like a sword poised over the world's head, they remained only months away from being converted into bomb fuel — something that the North Koreans say was finally done this summer. The North Korean bomb program only shifted into neutral; now it is back in gear.

Under Tuesday's deal Iran, too, will shift into neutral, while keeping its nuclear potential intact. It won't — for the time being — operate its newly constructed centrifuges, which are needed to enrich uranium to weapon grade. But the deal won't stop Iran from building more centrifuges to augment the limited number it now has, thus adding to its future ability to enrich uranium. Nor does the agreement bar Iran from completing the factory that produces the uranium gas that goes into the centrifuges. Nor does it prevent the building of the heavy water reactor or, indeed, the resumption of enrichment in the future. Thus the agreement could insulate Iran from international censure without hampering its nuclear progress in any way.

These defects won't be cured by Iran's acceptance of more rigorous inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The inspectors' new rights are still weaker than those that were enjoyed by their counterparts in Iraq — and we all know that the Iraqis repeatedly foiled those efforts with delays and obfuscation.

Milhollin appears to believe that economic sanctions can be successfully utilized to pressure Iran into giving up its' nuclear ambitions, but I am not so sanguine. I am completely convinced that the only long term solution is a military one; it isn't something I'm looking forward to by any means, but it will have to be done.

UPDATE: Sebastian Holsclaw has a summary of bien-pensant reaction in European newspapers to the agreement concluded with Iran. Let there be no doubt on the reality behind all of this: were it not for the threat of American military action, Iran wouldn't have agreed to even the sort of toothless agreement that it did. European "soft power" did absolutely nothing to bring this (frankly, worse than useless) promise of "cooperation" about.