Thursday, February 23, 2006

As the Deadline Draws Near...

for the IAEA meeting on Iran's nuclear program, Tehran is continuing its strategy of stalling and obfuscation, with an occasional half-hearted gesture for good measure.

As of this writing, the IAEA is scheduled to discuss the Iranian nuclear program on 6 March, a meeting that could result in action by the UN Security Council (don't hold your breath). With that in mind, Iran is now reportedly offering "new information" on its uranium enrichment efforts, under something called "Green Salt Project." And obligingly, IAEA inspectors are headed to Iran this weekend to examine the information.

Memo to IAEA Director General Mohammed El-Baradei and other agency big-wigs: don't bother. I'm not a nuclear physicist or engineer, but I can predict that whatever Tehran reveals this weekend, it will be incomplete, and probably raise more questions than it answers. It's all part of a deliberate effort to drag out the diplomacy as long as possible, giving Iranian scientists more time to develop nuclear weapons.

Want more proof (as if it were necessary)? Consider this dispatch from the 20 Feb edition of the Washington Post. According to the paper, the latest round of talks between Iran and Russia on a proposed enrichment deal ended inconclusively, but both sides promised to keep talking. Under that proposal, Iranian enrichment activities would be conducted at a Russian facility, offering greater access for IAEA inspectors. Iran actually rejected Moscow's intial offer last year, but decided to keep talking when the Russians modified their proposal.

The Russian proposal has the backing of the EU and the United States, who are apparently hoping that Moscow can actually broker a deal with Tehran.

We've seen this kind of thinking before. It's called appeasement; it didn't work with Hitler in 1936, and 70 years later, it faces a similar fate in dealing with Iran.

Military action is always the option of last resort in dealing with this sort of problem, but, as President Bush has pointed out, it should never be off the table. Nor should comprehensive sanctions that escalate in their severity and culminate in resolutions authorizing the use of force to prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

But developing a viable strategy for dealing with Iran is hard work, and so far, few in the west have the stomach for that. It's easier to invest in endless (and pointless) diplomacy, while Iran buys more time for its nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile, the more ambitious strategies for countering Tehran will reside at the Pentagon (and the Israeli MOD), not at Foggy Bottom.

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