The findings of a report released today from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors about their survey of a previously secret underground nuclear-enrichment plant have apparently led the group to suspect that Iran may be concealing other nuclear factories. Surprise. Surprise. The unfinished facility near the holy city of Qom was built to accommodate enough centrifuges to produce a couple of nuclear weapons a year, but is, in fact, too small to be useful for civilian uses of nuclear power. That gives the lie to Iran’s protests that its nuclear program is for only peaceful intents, but it’s not as if anyone, either in Iran or elsewhere, actually believed that to begin with. But the point of the report is that this newly discovered plant only makes sense if it were part of a network of covert nuclear facilities that could feed it with “raw nuclear fuel.”
But anyone who is shocked about any of this hasn’t been paying attention to this issue for years. Only two years after the United States issued a ridiculous National Intelligence Estimate denying the reality of the Iranian program, even international bodies like the IAEA are no longer prepared to hedge their bets about Iranian intentions. The reality of the imminence of a nuclear Iran cannot be denied any longer, even by those who would prefer to ignore the peril this development poses to U.S. strategic interests as well as world peace. Experts differ as to the exact time line, but there’s little doubt that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be in a position to announce that an Iranian nuclear device will be ready sometime within the next few years at the latest.
This also brings into perspective President Obama’s diplomacy on Iran. Having both campaigned on negotiations with Tehran without preconditions and downplayed the human-rights disaster in that country in the wake of a stolen presidential election, Obama seemed to believe he could make a deal with the ayatollahs. But the Iranians rightly sensed weakness and have exploited Obama’s desire for talks at any price. They negotiated a pact to transport their enriched uranium to Russia for safekeeping and then renounced it within weeks without an explanation and have refused Obama’s desperate pleas for them to consider an even sweeter deal. With egg left on his face, Obama has been forced to go cap in hand to Russia and now China to beg them for support for sanctions on the recalcitrant Iranians. The Russians played along, to a certain extent, by expressing their unhappiness with Iran. But you have to forget everything we’ve learned about Vladimir Putin and his foreign-policy priorities in order to believe that the Russians will repudiate their Iranian trading partners to accommodate a prime U.S. strategic interest. Optimism about Chinese help is equally fantastic.
Obama’s amateur diplomacy of apologies and bows can take the U.S. just so far when it comes to manufacturing an international coalition behind the sorts of sanctions that could bring Iran to its knees. Having gambled on a losing diplomatic hand with Iran, the president is now scrambling to resurrect a policy that is clearly sinking under the weight of his naïveté. The latest UN report illustrates just how fast the clock is ticking toward a confrontation that the president seems ill equipped to handle.