The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, voted last Saturday, Sept. 24, to hold Iran in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Strategy, locking in place a key piece of the U.S. strategy. John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., testified to the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday of this week that now Iran has a choice to make.
As Bolton explained, “Right now, in the aftermath of the IAEA resolution, it’s unmistakably up to Iran to decide whether it’s going to continue a policy of pursuing nuclear weapons, or whether it’s going to give it up, as did the government of Libya.” The strategy is simple: the U.S. government realizes that Iran is lying and the goal is to corner Iran so the lie is obvious to the world.
Iran now faces going before the Security Council if the mullahs persist to enrich uranium. In August, Iran defied the EU-3 by breaking off negotiations and resuming uranium processing at Isfahan. The Iranians are now threatening to start enriching uranium at their centrifuge processing plant at Natanz, claiming that under the NPT they have the “right” to pursue the “full fuel cycle,” just so they stop one or two steps short of actually making a nuclear weapon. Reports coming out of Iran suggest that technical problems are holding up the Iranians. Evidently, the uranium hexafluoride gas coming out of Isfahan is of such poor quality that processing it in the centrifuges at Natanz would actually damage the centrifuges.
Right after the 2004 Inauguration, President Bush and Secretary of State Rice met in Europe with the EU-3 and agreed to support the then-ongoing negotiations with Iran on one condition. That condition was that if the negotiations broke down, then the EU-3 would vote in the IAEA to take Iran before the Security Council. The EU-3 kept their part of the agreement. What Iran had not counted on was the condition President Bush had set with the EU-3 – namely, that Iran must agree to stop permanently all uranium processing for negotiations to resume, or for resumed negotiations to end successfully. With this condition set, the strategy to corner the mullahs was put in place.
Inch by inch, the president intends to take away all the Iranians’ wiggle room. If Iran wants nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the president is prepared to agree, provided that 1) Iran accepts the needed nuclear fuel from others, and 2) that Iran makes all aspects of their nuclear program fully transparent to aggressive international inspection. The Iranians have made it clear they will never accept these conditions. But if the Iranians are telling the truth in that peaceful use of nuclear energy is all they want, then the offer to provide the nuclear fuel should be good enough. If the Iranians refuse, suspicions rise that they are lying, intending to engage in subterfuge so they can continue their clandestine weapons program.
The Iranians respond by asserting a “right” to process uranium as a matter of national pride. But they give themselves away when they act cornered, threatening to cancel deals to sell India oil because India voted with the U.S. at the IAEA. For the first time, maybe the mullahs are sweating; maybe they are finally worried they are losing the public-relations battle. After the IAEA vote, they thrashed around, charging that it was unfair for Israel to have nuclear weapons outside the NPT restraints. Shortly, the Iranians will have no choice but to further defy the world by continuing uranium enrichment at Isfahan. Probably, Iran will start up the centrifuges at Natanz once they have enough uranium hexafluoride of adequate quality.
So, President Bush’s gambit is likely to work. But what happens next? Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, are unlikely to vote for greater sanctions against a non-compliant Iran. Maybe Bush wants to expose both Iran and the United Nations. Is the Security Council truly anti-American? Would the Security Council support a rogue terror-supporting state like Iran, with no clear assurance that Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons? Maybe this is the full gambit – to corner both Iran and the Security Council.
The Bush administration fought hard to get John Bolton in place. If the goal is to corner both the Iran and the Security Council, John Bolton is the right guy. Bolton has a history at the State Department of pointing out that Iran is a rogue, terror-supporting state pursing a secret nuclear weapons program. President Bush now has John Bolton properly positioned at the U.N. to tell the same story even more convincingly on the U.N.’s larger, more international stage.