Friday, April 21, 2006

We Want Proof

Efforts to reign in Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy suffered a serious, if not fatal setback today. A spokesman for Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow would support sanctions against Tehran only if it saw "hard evidence" that Iran's nuclear program was "not peaceful."

"We will only be able to talk about sanctions after we have concrete facts confirming that Iran is not exclusively involved in peaceful nuclear activities," said spokesman Mikhail Kamynin, in a statement published by the Itar-Tass news service. Seperately, a Russian national security official said that sanctions "did not figure" in Russia's agenda at this point.

Can we provide that level of proof? At this point, no. Iran claims its current uranium enrichment efforts are aimed at producing fuel for nuclear power plants, not creating the foundation for a nuclear weapon. And that explanation is entirely plausible, if extremely unlikely. That's the great thing about dual-use technology, which encompasses many of the processes used in developing weapons of mass destruction. Today's insecticide factory can be tomorrow's nerve gas plant. And that low-grade enrichment project in Iran could easily mushroom into a large-scale project to produce enough material for a bomb. Of course, at that point, Iran will simply claim that it needs more fuel for a planned "network" of nuclear power plants. And the mullahs' friends in Moscow and Beijing will simply nod their heads in agreement.

Call me an eternal pessimist, but I'd say that foreign ministry spokesman pretty much killed any hopes for a "diplomatic" solution to the Iranian nuclear problem. To get Russian support for sanctions, the UNSC must have unambiguous proof of non-peaceful nuclear efforts. Such evidence would be almost impossible to provide--and the Russians know it. So do we.

For good measure, Russia has also restated its intentions to deliver the SA-15 surface-to-air missile system to Tehran. That deal (initially reported last December) was confirmed earlier this week, although Iran's air defense system remains riddled with problems (see our recent post "Catching Up.").

With "friends" like the Russians, who needs enemies?

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