Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dropping the Pretence

The Times:
The IAEA must respond to Iran’s nuclear challenge

At least Iran has now been honest. Its announcement to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it is to resume nuclear research and development puts an end to Tehran’s absurd pretence of negotiating a continued suspension. It has been clear, from the start, that the minuet danced with the Europeans was merely a device to win time and confuse the West. Tehran never had any intention of halting efforts to enrich uranium and build a nuclear bomb. Since the election of its hardline President, attacks on the West have shown that it has no interest in compromise. Indeed, President Ahmadinejad, with customary boorishness, has told the Iranian Parliament that the policy of detente with the West was a waste of time. READ MORE

How the world reacts to this new challenge is critical to the credibility of any attempt to enforce nuclear non-proliferation. Washington will be angered but hardly surprised. Britain, France and Germany, the three European countries that have attempted to mediate, have been made to look not only naive but diplomatically weak. The head of Israel’s defence forces has said that the Iran’s nuclear programme “can be destroyed”, a phrase deliberately intended to raise the stakes. The Arab world, though expressing smug support for the defiance of the West by a fellow Muslim country, will be deeply worried by the maverick behaviour of a country seen as hostile to all regimes in the region.

The responsibility, however, lies unambiguously with the IAEA. There is little sign that the Vienna-based organisation is now ready to display any more courage or leadership than it has in its feeble and half-hearted past. Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency’s Director-General, has told the 35 countries on its board that he is seeking “clarifications” about the note delivered by Iran yesterday. What is there to clarify? Iran’s intentions could not be more obvious, nor its attempt to thwart a full inspection and veto safeguards against the development of a nuclear potential more forcefully expressed. It has rebuffed Russia’s recent offer to let Iranian scientists work on the peaceful development of nuclear energy inside Russia. Tehran does not want its bluff called.

The IAEA must refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council forthwith. This is an option that Mr ElBaradei, basking in his Nobel reputation as a peacemaker, has been desperate to avoid. Hiding behind the pretence that he has no firm proof of Iran’s violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he has ducked and weaved in an effort to avoid the responsibility for which the IAEA, as a statutory UN agency, is constitutionally liable.

The issue for the rest of the world is what threats can credibly be made. These have to be adroitly calibrated. President Ahmadinejad is already being seen at home as an extremist liability, and his remarks on Israel yesterday were intended to polarise matters again. Pressure on Iran could lead to his overthrow, but too much would rally Iranians behind him. This arrogant challenge cannot be ignored. It is up to the IAEA to take an overdue lead.