Commentary Magazine


Iran Nukes: “At a Dead End”

Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its most recent report on Iran’s nuclear program. There are three significant findings. First, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iran is continuing the enrichment of uranium and is making substantial progress on improving its centrifuges. Second, the country might have received “foreign expertise” in testing a detonator for a nuclear weapon. Third, Iranian personnel are not fully cooperating with IAEA inspectors.

In fact, the Iranians are hardly cooperating at all. “Gridlocked” is the word a high-level official close to the IAEA used to describe the standoff between the U.N. nuclear watchdog and the Islamic Republic. “We seem to be at a dead end,” said a senior United Nations official describing the IAEA report.

In response, China urged the Iranians to cooperate with the IAEA but indicated it was not in favor of ratcheting up “tensions,” an apparent reference to calls from Washington, London, and Paris for even more U.N. sanctions. And five former secretaries of state–Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, and Colin Powell–urged Washington to conduct talks with the theocracy. “I believe we need to engage with Iran,” Albright said. “I think the whole point is you try to engage and deal with countries that you have problems with.”

Okay, Madame Secretary, just what do you think the IAEA has been trying to do since the early part of this decade? Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the organization, has given the Iranians every opportunity to comply, making every concession possible. Now, the U.N. agency has come to the end of the line. The Iranians have made it clear they will not answer the tough questions or let inspectors into secret facilities. Moreover, the mullahs, over the course of years, have rejected all proposals from the United States, Europe, and Russia. What exactly do you intend to say that has not already been said–many times–before?

As long as the IAEA has inspectors in Iran, the international community can be assured the Iranians will not be able to divert uranium from their declared civilian program to a covert military one. But we cannot be confident that Iran at this moment is not buying a bomb or fissile material from foreign sources or is not maintaining hidden facilities, either in country or elsewhere. With its obvious work on bomb technology and its apparent foreign links, there is simply no more time for engaging and talking.

That leaves, in descending order of preference, sanctioning, fighting, or acquiescing.