Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The West Must Call Russia's Bluff on Iran

Telegraph: Opinion
Iran's unilateral decision to restart uranium enrichment at its top-secret Natanz processing plant has prompted a predictably lame response from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations-sponsored body responsible for monitoring the ayatollahs' nuclear activities.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning IAEA chief, responded to this open act of defiance merely by remarking that the "international community" was "running out of patience". What Mr ElBaradei should have said is that this latest provocation by Teheran was the last straw, and that he would now be giving his strongest recommendation to the IAEA's board of governors in Vienna that the Iran issue be referred to the United Nations Security Council as a matter of extreme urgency. READ MORE

Ever since the hardline government of former Revolutionary Guard commander Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power last summer, the Iranians have been on a collision course with the West over their insistence on Iran's right to develop an indigenous nuclear power industry.

Most Iran-watchers are convinced that Iran's motives are far more sinister - namely, the development of atomic weapons.

Last August, the Iranians unveiled their more confrontational approach by removing seals at a key uranium processing plant at Isfahan. Mr ElBaradei's response then was to appeal to both Iran and the West not to indulge in a dangerous game of brinkmanship. Meanwhile, his own IAEA inspectors warned that if Iran were to resume uranium enrichment at Natanz - a plant whose very existence Iran had concealed from UN inspectors until two years ago - then Teheran would be capable of building an atom bomb within three years. In effect, that countdown began yesterday.

Previously, the main objection to reporting Iran to the Security Council for breaching its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty was that any move to take punitive action, such as the imposition of economic sanctions, would be vetoed by Moscow. It was for this reason that governments of the EU3 - Britain, France and Germany - embarked on an intensive course of diplomacy - some would say appeasement - to bring the Iranians to their senses.

The IAEA and EU3 have failed in their mission, and it should now be left to the Security Council to decide how to handle this grave threat to Western security. However much the Iranians might despise the West, their prosperity is to a large extent dependent on Europe's goodwill, and there are many Iranians from the professional and business classes who would be aghast at the imposition of economic sanctions. As for the fear of a veto from the Russians, the time has come to call their bluff.