Wake up and smell the nukes
Why, oh why, do European diplomats stick their heads in the sand when it comes to recognizing dangers? In 1939 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was fool enough to believe Hitler when he claimed he had no territorial ambitions and had only peaceful intentions. We all know the terrible results of this appeasement.
Now the Europeans are doing it again, naively clinging to the hope that diplomacy is the appropriate answer to Iran’s development of nuclear bomb making capacity. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and only gained access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes by promising not to develop nuclear weapons.
The treaty is supposed to be enforced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but the Agency inspectors failed to find Iran’s secret program until the US took them by the hand and showed them the evidence. Now the IAEA is extremely reluctant to do anything but talk, talk, talk about the problem.
The United States believes that Iran is secretly trying to make nuclear weapons and has urged the IAEA to send Iran’s breach of the NPT to the Security Council. IAEA itself has complained that Iran has concealed from member states some activities, such as uranium-enrichment, that are normally associated with development of a nuclear bomb.
In November 2004, Iran finally agreed to negotiations over the long-term fate of its nuclear program with France, Germany and Britain. Iran agreed to temporarily suspend all uranium-enrichment activities during these negotiations, but has recently indicated that it intends to break the terms of the agreement, claiming that Europe has failed to offer incentives that would encourage Iran to modify its nuclear goals.
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Iran has now admitted that it has converted uranium ore concentrate into the gas UF-4, which can rapidly be converted into UF-6, a gas used in centrifuges to produce weapons-grade uranium. And on May 15, Iran’s parliament passed a resolution backing the government’s right to enrich uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear program and calling for a resumption of enrichment. In any case, Iran argues that converting uranium into UF-4 does not qualify as enrichment and is, therefore, allowed under the agreement. The Europeans disagree.
Mohammed El Baradei, IAEA Director-General, has said that “A confidence deficit has been created, and confidence needs to be restored. Iran’s active cooperation and full transparency is therefore indispensable.”
But in spite of The IAEA Board of Governors adoption of no fewer than seven decisions, calling on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA in resolving outstanding issues with its nuclear program, many questions remain unanswered. The reality is that there is continued deception by Iran and an apparent European lack of will to do much about it.
European negotiators sent a letter on May 11 to Iran’s chief nuclear official, Hassan Rowhani, warning Tehran that, if it restarted nuclear activities, negotiations would end and “the consequences could only be negative for Iran.” But does Iran really believe that Europe will act firmly? Remember how the Europeans stood idly by and let the Serbs massacre 7000 men and boys at Srebenica. It was only firm action by US bombers that ended the Bosnian war.
“Traditionally, the United States has always been waving the stick while the Europeans have offered carrots,” said Matthew Bunn, a senior research associate and nuclear expert at Harvard. Europe has preferred to negotiate with Tehran directly, offer generous incentive packages, and block efforts by the United States and Israel to refer Iran to the Security Council for its nuclear activities.
One would have hoped that the European negotiators learned a lesson from the fiasco in 1994 when North Korea agreed to dismantle its proliferation-sensitive nuclear program in exchange for provision of electricity-generating nuclear reactors and the interim supply of heavy fuel oil. When later North Korea admitted to building nuclear bombs and was threatened with a referral to the Security Council, it showed its contempt for international law and world opinion by repudiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that it had so blatantly ignored.
So, can we expect a firm response from the negotiating diplomats, or does someone else have to do the heavy lifting? One hopeful sign is that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has recently said that “We certainly will support referral to the U.N. Security Council if Iran breaches its undertakings and obligations.” But, he added, “Nobody is talking about invasions of Iran or military action against Iran…..We have to make sure that this diplomatic process works, and we will fight very hard to do that.”
Unfortunately, the only effective diplomacy is one backed up by credible threats, as was proven in Bosnia and Kosovo. Iran has seen how the many referrals of Iraq to the Security Council failed to produce any action until the patience of the United States and its Coalition partners was exhausted. What is now needed is a concerted action by the international community to ensure that Iran meets its commitments under international treaties. At the very least, the Security Council must be involved, and soon.