The alarm about Iran isn't limited to American Neo-Cons and evangelicals. Following the admission that Iran restarted its Qom uranium enrichment facility, even the UN's International Atomic Energy lost confidence in Iran's truthfulness and urged the country to be more forthright. Even Europe is "gradually coming around to . . . the potential threat posed by Iran."
Iran's reaction? They vowed to construct 10 or 20 additional plants, decided to enrich their uranium stock to 20 percent, well higher than necessary for civilian nuclear power and threatened to cease cooperating with the IAEA.
The December 5-11th Economist summarizes the situation:
A secret uranium-enrichment plant is discovered, built in a mountainside on a well-defended military compound outside the city of Qom. It is a clear breach of nuclear safeguards agreements and promises made when Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran brazens it out, trying to bamboozle inspectors into believing there is nothing more. It defiantly declares its "nuclear rights" to this "civilian" effort with a purpose, it says, that is nothing more sinister than providing electricity to Iranians.Fuzzy-thinking internationalists and the liberal media bear much of the blame. As does Russia and China, which blocked tougher responses to date. But most perplexing is the President's reaction--Obama called for more negotiations. Too late, says the December 21st National Review (subscription only):
To diplomats from America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, it is a depressingly familiar tale. . .
What has changed in the intervening seven years is far from reassuring. Iran is much further on with its enrichment plans. Natanz has some 8,000 centrifuge enrichment machines (out of a planned 54,000), though only about half are spinning with uranium gas. It has accumulated a stock of 5% enriched uranium which, if Iran breaks out and enriches it further to bomb-usable 90% (easy compared with achieving the first 5%), would be enough for a bomb, and will soon be enough for two. Inspectors, meanwhile, suspect that Iran may have other secret sites. They have plenty of evidence to suggest that Iran has done warhead development, besides other experiments whose purpose can only be to build a nuclear weapon, or enable one to be assembled at speed.
But Iran refuses to answer their questions, and now threatens to increase its enrichment effort tenfold. An exaggerated boast, perhaps: it appears to be running short of uranium ore, as well as high-strength steel for the planned expansion at Natanz. But it is moving ahead fast.
Some in Tehran are even hinting that the country could pull out of the NPT altogether. Being in or out "makes no difference", said Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament and a former nuclear negotiator. But he was immediately contradicted by the head of Iran’s atomic agency, who said that the only reason to pull out of the treaty would be to develop nuclear weapons, and that would be a "sin". The very threat of it brings the world a step closer to the catastrophic choice that France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, laid out in 2007: an Iranian nuclear bomb, or the bombing of Iran.
This year, it was hoped, would be different. With a new American president ready to be conciliatory, diplomats had tried even harder to draw Iran into talks. When Iran recently announced that it needed 20% enriched uranium to replace the fuel rods in a research reactor that produces medical isotopes (and was built by America in Tehran in the 1960s, when times were better), a deal was proposed involving America, Russia, France and the IAEA. Most of Iran’s own low-enriched uranium (LEU), for which it has no practical civilian use because it has no working nuclear-power reactors that could burn it, would be taken out of the country, enriched in Russia, made into fuel rods in France and then returned to Iran, all under the auspices of the IAEA. Removing most of Iran’s uranium stock would create a breathing space, if only of a few months, for more talks.
This was the first step to seeing whether a broader deal could be struck. Under such an agreement, Iran would end the part of its nuclear work with military potential until confidence was restored. In return it would get various benefits, including improved political and trade ties, discussions about regional security and even co-operation on advanced civilian nuclear technologies.
Iran’s provocative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at first seemed tempted. He saw the deal as a means of legitimising Iran’s own enrichment programme. But it fell foul of Iran’s opaque and unstable politics, all the more volatile since Mr Ahmadinejad’s rigged re-election in June. The president found himself outflanked by both reformers and hardliners, all denouncing his readiness to export Iran’s hard-won enriched uranium. The deal collapsed. On December 2nd Mr Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would obtain 20% enriched uranium all by itself, by producing it inside the country.
The failure of the fuel deal and the revelations at Qom have particularly disappointed the outgoing head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei. Mr ElBaradei points out that the Qom site is not only illegal, but also "reduces confidence" in Iran’s claim not to have other secret facilities.
The negotiate-and-sanction approach has been given more than six years to work, and has not. The worst outcome would be the testing of an Iranian atomic bomb while the West is still in "Let's talk" mode; if there is not to be a bombing campaign against the nuclear sites--a course that may well be less costly than letting Iran go nuclear--our intellectual and material resources should be devoted to the formulation and execution of a containment strategy. President Obama should therefore make it his goal to bring the diplomatic game to a conclusion--and, by extension, to force the West's leaders to confront hard realities, and a hard choice--more than to secure passage of this or that sanctions resolution.(via The Corner)