In a speech given to the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna today, Yukio Amano, the IAEA’s director stated that more evidence has been found that pointed to the existence of a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Amano has taken a tougher line on Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, who is currently running for president of Egypt. Last fall Amano spoke openly about Iranian work to develop a nuclear-armed missile. In recent weeks, the IAEA has revealed that Tehran has been working on, among other things, nuclear triggers and detonators that could only be related to the production of bombs.
The focus of today’s meeting seems to be on Iran’s ally Syria, which was building a nuclear reactor of its own until the site was destroyed in an Israeli raid in September 2007. But the BBC reports that any action against Damascus is unlikely because diplomats say more pressure on the Assad regime right now would be ill timed due to the unrest and violent repression going on in the country. Rather than push the Syrians at a moment when they are vulnerable, the international community will again take a pass on doing something about them.
Amano’s candor about Iranian nukes is a welcome change,since the ElBaradei’s main concern was preventing any concerted Western action against Tehran rather than restraining the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. But even this blunter talk from the IAEA has done nothing to soften Iran’s intransigence as their refusal to cooperate with the agency or to answer Amano’s queries illustrates. Far from convincing the Khameini regime to start backing away from its dreams of nuclear weapons, the last three years of international diplomacy on the issue seem to have convinced them that they can continue with impunity. All the West seems capable of doing about the issue is talk.
Nevertheless, Amano is to be commended for helping to push Iran’s nuclear program back into the news. The Obama administration as well as much of the mainstream media had been generally quiet about Iran for several months in large measure because the news about the Stuxnet computer virus had encouraged people to think that Iran’s program was crippled by the worm, thus relieving the West of its responsibility to act against a potentially genocidal nuclear threat. But it is now clear that whatever damage was done—and we still don’t know the extent of what Stuxnet achieved or even who launched it—Iran has weathered that crisis and is moving on to achieve its nuclear goals.
The countdown has clearly resumed toward the day when Iran will announce its nuclear capability, a development that could would, at the very least, change the balance of power in the Middle East for the worse. But the IAEA can only talk about the problem. It will be up to the United States and President Obama to do something about it.