Friday, April 28, 2006

Iran vs. UN: Tehran Ups the Ante

Peter Brookes,
Tossing a little fat on the fire before today's U.N. Security Council deadline calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, Tehran upped the ante this week by offering to share its nuclear know-how with others.

According to the Iranian news agency, IRNA, Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday in a meeting with the Sudanese president in Tehran that Iran "is prepared to transfer the [nuclear] experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists."

This bone-chilling comment, which echoed the words of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last fall, highlights the less-discussed dilemma of Iran's nuclear aspirations: Once the ayatollahs become atomic, with whom might Tehran share its nuclear knowledge? READ MORE

A nuclear Iran is a nightmare for all the obvious reasons, including destabilizing the Middle East, but the idea of a number of Iranian friends/allies "armed" with nuclear programs (provided by Tehran) is cause for permanent strategic insomnia.

Some might think that since this pronouncement of willful proliferation was made in a meeting with Sudan's president Omar al Bashir that, perhaps, Khartoum might be one of the recipients of Iranian nuclear largesse. While this is possible, it's unlikely.

No doubt, Sudan wouldn't mind having the turbocharged political influence that comes along with the potential of a nuclear (weapons) breakout. It would, certainly, allow Khartoum to fend off pressure over the ongoing Sudanese civil war or, even, the genocide in Darfur.

But, nuclear programs, are often--fortunately--cost prohibitive to many countries, especially those with shallow pockets. It shouldn't be ruled out, but even if Tehran shared its nuclear smarts, Sudan wouldn't likely join the ranks of nuclear nations anytime soon.

But don't breathe a great big sigh of relief yet, other potential roguish recipients exist for Iranian nuclear gift-giving such as Iran's pal, Syria, and, even, its new friend, Venezuela--right here in our neighborhood.

Syria is an Iranian ally, having concluded a mutual defense treaty in 2004. Reaffirming the security pact last February, Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al Otari noted, "Syria and Iran face several challenges, and it is necessary to build a common front."

But the most dreaded aspect of their growing partnership is the potential for nuclear cooperation. While Syria only has a small nuclear R&D program, based on a Chinese-supplied 30-kilowatt reactor, that isn't the whole story.

The State Department says that Syria has also obtained some dual-use nuclear technologies--some with IAEA assistance--that could be used in a nuclear weapons program. What better saber than nukes for Damascus to fend off the U.S. and Israel?

Another of Iran's staunch supporters on the nuclear issue has been Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. Time and time again, Chavez has defended Iran's right to nuclear power, especially because Iran is, "faced with the threat of the U.S. government."

More troubling, Chavez has openly flirted with a nuclear program. Last May, he expressed interest in opening negotiations with Iran on nuclear power. In February, the speaker of the Iranian parliament said Iran was open to cooperation with Venezuela.

Of course, Caracas --like Tehran--swears that despite the country being awash in oil and gas, a nuclear program is only for peaceful energy production.

Moreover, not only could Iran assist Venezuela with a nuclear program to keep the U.S. off balance in its own neighborhood, Tehran could also share its prodigious ballistic missile capability with Caracas, putting the U.S. within range.

Now, there is no need to be alarmist--not every country that has expressed aspirations for nuclear power is destined for the nuclear weapons club, but considering Chavez's anti-American bile (not unlike Iran's), it certainly should give us significant pause.

Iran's real nuclear aspirations are rapidly becoming known. But similarly troubling--and much less considered--is Tehran's potential for "secondary proliferation"--which makes rolling back Iran's nuclear program all the more important.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."

Chávez wears a Basiji scarf. (Venezuela Today).