..what a change at the top can do for an organization.
Consider the case of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. Under the leadership of its former director, Mohammed El-Baradei, the agency was often described as a lap dog in its dealings with rogue states and their nuclear programs, particularly Iran's.
Mr. El-Baradei's willingness to "go easy" on Tehran was on display throughout his tenure at the IAEA. As Kenneth Timmerman reported in his book "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran," El-Baradei ignored warnings (from German intelligence) that Tehran's nuclear program was surging ahead in early 2000. Then, to cover his tracks, El-Baradei told his spokesman to deny that he had received the information.
About the same time, El-Baradei held a highly-publicized meeting with then-President Mohammen Khatami, declaring that Iran's nuclear efforts were completely "peaceful," despite evidence the regime was building a large uranium conversion plant, useful in supporting a weapons program.
The RegimeChangeIran blog also reminds us that Mr. El-Baradei was a late convert to Iran's real intentions. In 2003, the IAEA belatedly released a report on Iran attempts to evade
international inspections--but only after the Iranian opposition released detailed (and dramatic) evidence of Tehran's efforts to develop a nuclear bomb. Still, El-Baradei and his agency won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, another example of the low standards used by the Norwegian voters who determine the annual recipient.
Now, with Mr. El-Baradei in retirement, the IAEA is (apparently) taking a harder look at Tehran's nuclear program. In first report on Iran, new IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano broke with his predecessor, suggesting Tehran may have looked into into the construction of a nuclear weapon, and that weaponization efforts may be underway.
According to the U.K. Guardian, Mr. Amano's report also confirmed that Iran has already produced small quantities of uranium enriched to 20% purity. That is a significant increase from the low-quality (2-3%) enriched uranium previous produced by the Iranians. Attaining the 20% level is considered an intermediate step in reaching the 90% purity required for a nuclear weapon. Nuclear experts say that Iran could reach the 90% threshhold in as little as six months, now that the intermediate level has been attained.
The appointment of Mr. Amano--and his clear-eyed reporting on Iran--represent a welcome change for the IAEA. If anything, those wishing to coddle or appease Tehran may have to look elsewhere for cover. The days of Mr. El-Baradei white-washing the Iran file are (thankfully) over.
But that raises another question: as the IAEA builds its "charge sheet" against Tehran, what will the International Community do about it? By some accounts, the Iranians are well along in their efforts to build a bomb, and could have one in a matter of months. But the Bush Administration invested years in failed diplomatic efforts (led by the EU-3), and the Obama Administration compounded that mistake by giving Iran another year to "come around."
At last report, the U.S. and its allies were developing "new and tougher" sanctions against Tehran. But if the new IAEA report is correct (and it mirrors recent intelligence reporting on the Iranian nuclear program), then the window for sanctions has largely closed, and it may be time to consider the unthinkable--military action against Iran.
Unfortunately, that option won't fly at the White House, or the U.N. Security Council. That's why the Iranians are laughing all the way to the nuclear finish line.