On Sunday, Iran rejected the call by the E.U.-3 to halt uranium processing at Isfahan prior to the Sept. 19, 2005 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors. Ali Larijani, the new head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, characterized the E.U.-3 demand as “bullying.” Hamid-Reza Asefi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters Iran “will never retreat on the uranium conversion in Isfahan, which has been an issue of the past.”
Last Friday, the IAEA issued a report leaving no doubt that Iran had failed to clear up safeguard issues under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – the issues in dispute dealt with uranium and plutonium processing that could lead to building a bomb. Even IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei was left with no way to defend Iran, having finally to admit what he has not admitted before, namely that the “jury is still out” on whether Iran has a secret nuclear weapons plan.
U.S. diplomatic sources remained firm that the United States still believes Iran has a clandestine atomic weapons plan and that a referral to the U.N. Security Council is forthcoming unless Iran stops processing uranium at Isfahan and returns to the negotiating table with the E.U.-3.
Events are following the course I saw while writing “Atomic Iran.” Yesterday, Russia placed a statement on the English version of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website commenting on the IAEA report and signaling Russia sees “no grounds for the referral to the U.N. Security Council of the question which the IAEA is actively and productively concerned with at present.” France and China, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, can also be expected to oppose bringing Iran to the Security Council. The problem is that Iran is defying the E.U.-3 by refusing to negotiate any further unless the negotiations proceed under an understanding that Iran has a right to process uranium under the terms of the NPT.
Right now, Iran sees clear tactical advantage to leading the radical Islamic revolution’s charge against the United States. The mullahs have not yet opened the centrifuge farms at Natanz for one simple reason: They need some more time to process uranium at Isfahan before they have enough uranium hexafluoride to make starting up the centrifuges worthwhile. Reports coming out of Iran suggest that some 7 to 10 tons of uranium hexafluoride have already been produced in Isfahan since the facility was restarted around Aug. 8. Still, that is enough uranium-235 to produce only about one small atomic bomb. Once the Iranians have enough uranium hexafluoride to produce five to 10 bombs, we should expect the mullahs to start up Natanz.
Why are the mullahs being so defiant? They have come to the conclusion that the United States is weak and unable to stop them. The mullahs are watching the internal political criticism the president is facing from the Left over Iraq. Every argument from the political Left that Iraq is another “Vietnam quagmire” convinces the mullahs that President Bush lacks the political strength to launch a military attack on Iran.
Now, with Iran’s newly elected radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cleared to travel to New York to address the United Nations, Iran has a clear opportunity to take a political shot at President Bush. Ahmadinejad’s argument will certainly be that Iran has the right to enrich uranium to weapons grade, as long as the mullahs stop “one screw’s turn short” of actually making an atomic bomb. The mullahs have a virtually sociopathic ability to read the NPT with a razor, virtually cutting out all the white from the paper so they can rearrange the words to fit their own meaning.
Make no mistake about it: The mullahs intend to have nuclear weapons. With the bomb in hand, the mullahs believe they will ensure their ability to stay in power. Moreover, the mullahs in Tehran can easily tune into CNN to watch the disaster in New Orleans. One hurricane is capable of closing a major American city, throwing the nation into the political blame game, while costing untold billions in economic damage. Imagine how much more devastating would be the successful explosion of one improvised nuclear device in another American city of their choice.
As I wrote in “Atomic Iran,” we continue to head down the path of confrontation with Iran. Pretty soon, Israel will be left alone to decide when they can wait no longer for the world to come to their senses. Israel does not want to launch a military strike on Iran by itself. But there may not be much choice left, with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad about to deliver what the radical Islamic world will see as a triumphant speech before the United Nations.
Clearly, Iran wants a confrontation … especially when the United States appears helpless to stop them and the United Nations is unwilling to stop them.