Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spinning ElBaradei

The Washington Times: an editorial
Mohamed ElBaradei, hawk: That's the novel line Iran is peddling about the International Atomic Energy Agency chief in the wake of his receipt of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. "The pessimistic hypothesis is that with this prize, Mr. ElBaradei will become closer to the political position of the United States and the Europeans, especially on the nuclear issue," Iranian parliamentary foreign-affairs spokesman Kazem Jalali put it to Agence-France Press last week. "And he will put more pressure on Iran."

If only it were true. Actually, Mr. ElBaradei is a dove and technocrat who gives the Iranians considerable leeway to pursue their nuclear ambitions. The agency he heads is a flat-footed bureaucracy that gets caught by surprise every time Iran, North Korea or some other would-be nuclear power makes a leap toward acquiring the bomb. The mullahs are certain to share in any good fortune Mr. ElBaradei enjoys.

The evidence of Mr. ElBaradei's softness on Iran is legion. As Kenneth Timmerman showed in his book, "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran," in March 2000, while the Iranian nuclear program burgeoned, Mr. Elbaradei quashed reports of significant Iranian advances. After German intelligence warned him that Iran was advancing its knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle -- an advance "that can be used to build nuclear weapons" -- Mr. ElBaradei ordered his spokesman to deny that the Germans had told him any such thing. READ MORE

The stonewalling went on. Two months later, Mr. ElBaradei met with President Mohammed Khatami in Iran and soon after declared that Iran's nuclear activities were totally peaceful. By this point, Iran had begun building a major uranium conversion plant to convert large amounts of natural uranium. Even in late 2003, after the Iranian opposition had revealed new and definitive evidence of Iran's nuclear program and Mr. ElBaradei's own IAEA released a belated report on Iran's cheating, Mr. ElBaradei claimed not to know whether Iran was building weapons.

Lately, Mr. ElBaradei has taken to making certain hawkish-sounding pronouncements -- presumably the reason for the Iranian statements -- but these sound empty in light of Mr. ElBaradei's record. If he suddenly becomes a hawk atop an envigored Internationational Atomic Energy Agency, we'll applaud. It would utterly reverse his record. It seems highly unlikely.

The "hawkish ElBaradei" line is probably another Iranian spin tactic to enhance the country's nuclear bargaining position. To be sure, it was enough to make the French press agency conclude that Iran is "fearful of facing intensified pressure over its hotly disputed nuclear program." But it isn't enough to make either the hawkish ElBaradei line, nor the fearful Iran one, credible.