Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Constructive Engagement Bears Fruit

Here's a story that ought to give pause to those who think Iran's nuclear ambitions can be kept in check by words alone. Note the source - hardly a rabid pro-war rag.

Iran is to resume elements of its uranium enrichment programme tomorrow in a move which worsens the confrontation with the west over Tehran's suspected ambition to develop a nuclear bomb.

Withdrawing from previous pledges to freeze all uranium-enrichment activities, Tehran said yesterday it would resume manufacturing parts for centrifuges tomorrow and would also restart the assembly of the centrifuges, the machines that refine crude uranium into bomb-grade material or nuclear fuel for power stations.

Iran's decision was criticised yesterday by the EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and the White House. It will fuel further suspicions about Iran's nuclear programme and increase mistrust at the IAEA, whose 35-strong governing board regularly seeks to come up with a policy towards Iran.

The announcement was a blow to Britain, France and Germany which reached the Tehran Agreement last October, an accord under which Iran promised to freeze its enrichment activity.


Germany trumpeted October's deal as a triumph for European diplomacy, implicitly criticising Washington's more confrontational approach.

The Iranians wrote to the EU troika last week serving notice that the deal was now void. Unlike Washington, which urges that Tehran be reported to and punished by the UN security council, the EU has been eager to avoid a showdown, keep the channels open to Tehran and hope to mitigate Iranian behaviour. As a result of the latest Iranian move the Europeans may take a harder line.

Iran's foreign ministry said: "Europeans failed to respect their commitments. There is no reason for us to keep our moral promise."
"Moral promise"! I like that, it's a really nice touch from the Iranians. Anyway, seeing as ye olde-fashioned sabre-rattling's been ruled out of contention as "simplistic" and unacceptable "unilateralism", I fail to see just what the Europeans can do to bring the Iranians back to line: "Stop your weapons programme, or, or ... we'll warn you some more!" Sure, that'll work, no question.

War is an ugly, brutal business, and the threat of war isn't one to be made lightly, but a regime as loathsome as Iran's is among the last ones a sane person would wish to see in possession of nuclear weapons. What's scarier still is that they've also been hard at work on the delivery systems to get those weapons as far afield as London and Madrid: Iran's ambitions aren't just a matter of concern for a certain "shitty little country", as a certain sophisticated French ambassador once so euphoniously put it.

Given the choice between a short, sharp and limited campaign focused solely on annihilating all of Iran's nuclear facilities - let the Iranians take care of their own "liberation" this time, thank you very much - and the prospect of spending one's final moments on this Earth seeing the blinding flash of a nuclear explosion even through solid concrete walls, I'd hope most Europeans would make the right decision. Cheap Pollyanish rhetoric isn't going to get rid of Iran's nuclear programme, and only brute force will do the job.