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Before we get too excited that the International Atomic Energy Agency is moving to vote on Iran before the Security Council, we should look at the fine print.

At the last minute, Russia insisted that the resolution remove any language of sanctions. Grigory Berdennikov, Russia’s envoy to the IAEA in Vienna, emphasized to the world press that Russia was not “against informing the U.N. Security Council about the work conducted by the IAEA in Iran and the steps the country has to take to improve the situation.” In making this statement, Bredennikov specifically pointed out that the resolution before the IAEA board was not asking the U.N. Security Council to take any serious measures against Iran while the IAEA was still attempting to resolve the situation.

From the Russian perspective, concessions made to get Russian compliance with the measure have watered down the IAEA vote expected during this Feb. 2-3 meeting in Vienna to be a decision simply to inform the Security Council about IAEA activities. Specifically, the vote will not be meant to “refer the Iran portfolio” to the Security Council for any proposed action, and certainly not any proposed sanctions.

Moreover, the vote being taken now appears aimed only at putting the resolution on the agenda for a vote in the IAEA’s March meeting. The IAEA will have yet one more month to continue the “negotiations” with Iran before the IAEA board truly votes to inform the Security Council about Iran’s non-compliance with IAEA inspection requests.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters in Vienna that “This situation (with Iran) is critical – not a crisis – and there is no imminent threat. Iran still has until my next report to fully suspend its enrichment activities.”

Gregory Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA supported ElBaradei’s contention, by carefully drawing a distinction between “reporting” Iran to the Security Council, which the vote taken in March might accomplish, and “referring” Iran to the Security Council, which evidently is not on the agenda even in March. “By reporting Iran to the Security Council, we will increase the diplomatic tools available to the international community,” Ambassador Schulte told the world press in Vienna. “Let me be clear: We are not now seeking sanctions or any other punitive measures against Iran.”

Looked at honestly, Iran has dodged the bullet again. Or, looked at from a different angle, despite all the diplomatic pushing and shoving done by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush, the nations of the IAEA and especially Russia and China, are still very reluctant to take strong action against Iran.

What does Iran have to do to convince the world that the clerics running the regime are on a dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons? IAEA internal documents going back at least a dozen years document numerous cases of Iranian lies and deception over their nuclear program. Today, Iran’s military runs the nuclear program, a reporting structure hardly necessary if the program’s intent were entirely peaceful.

President Ahmadinejad continues to make statements that Israel should be wiped off the map, at least off the map of the Middle East. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust happened and he proposes moving Israel to Europe. These statements made by any other head of state against any other country would be considered a virtual declaration of war. In defiance of agreements made with the E.U.-3 since November 2004 to engage in good faith negotiations while uranium processing and enrichment were stopped, Iran has unilaterally reopened Isfahan to produce uranium hexafluoride gas and now has reopened Natanz to uranium enrichment “research and development.” These are hardly the steps of a country that truly wants to invite IAEA inspection or to reassure the world that their intentions are truly peaceful.

In the next few days, we will have to watch how Iran reacts to the truly modest rebuke issued by the IAEA in their February meeting in Vienna. We wonder what Iran would have to do before the world would move aggressively toward Security Council sanctions? Unfortunately, we are getting a feeling of deja vu, watching yet another world bully being handled with kid gloves due to the Bush administration’s current resolve to enter the quagmire of world diplomacy.

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