Commentary Magazine


Bluffing Iran

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected his country to be producing electricity from the atom within a year. “On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak,” he told a crowd in Bushehr, the city where Tehran has located its Russian-built reactor. On Monday, Russia delivered the eighth and final shipment of enriched uranium to fuel the plant.

After failing to stop Moscow, President Bush last month said he supported Russia’s supplying nuclear fuel for Bushehr. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he noted. Tehran, not surprisingly, was not buying the argument. Nor would it accept purchasing enriched uranium from an international nuclear-fuel bank. “Having this nuclear-fuel cycle is part of our right,” said Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor, in Davos earlier this week. “There is no reason—when we can produce something—to get it from other people.”

No reason at all, Hashemi? Suppose Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing jointly guaranteed the supply of enriched uranium indefinitely and without cost. If you insisted on spending billions of dollars to produce something that you could have for free, we might conclude that you were enriching uranium for other purposes, such as building the core of a nuclear weapon. If you replied that your nation wanted to be self-sufficient, I would ask why you are concerned that the world would cut off supply. Are you planning some abhorrent act?

At the beginning of last month, we learned that the American intelligence community had “high confidence” that Iran, in the fall of 2003, had abandoned its program to build a bomb. Whatever one may think of the National Intelligence Estimate, let’s put the Iranians to the test. Let’s see if the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad will accept the most generous offer that the international community could ever make. If the Iranians reject it, we will have obtained the best evidence of their actual plans.

What plans? Yesterday, while speaking about scaling nuclear peaks, Ahmadinejad managed to slip in this message to the West: “I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.”