More Surprises Out of Iran
“They have cheated three times,” a senior Obama Administration official asserted two weeks ago, referring to the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The remark responded to President Obama’s announcement on September 25 that Iran had been surreptitiously constructing a nuclear enrichment facility near the city of Qom.
Obama had decided to sit on the intelligence for months, finally prompted by a rather short, vaguely written declaration of the nuclear site to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued only four days earlier by the Iranian government.
Iran’s declaration of the site may seem surprising to those who believe the regime typically writes its own rule book when it comes to nuclear capability development. In fact, the other two occurrences of cheating referenced by the Administration official were Iran’s failure in 2002 to declare another hidden uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and evidence that Iran had been attempting to design a nuclear warhead, an initiative American officials believe ceased in 2003.
Given its recent history, Iran’s acknowledgement of a previously clandestine nuclear site certainly appears anomalous. One explanation being circulated is that the Ahmadinejad decided to declare this uranium enrichment facility to the IAEA only upon Tehran’s realization that American intelligence officials had already discovered the site, hidden in a mountainous area.
Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad is using Iran’s declaration of the site to support his own assertion that the facility was never intended to be a secret, that it only meant to produce nuclear energy for Iran, and that Iran does not even need a nuclear weapon.
If Ahmadinejad’s claims sound familiar, that is because he has made them time and again as his government has continued to “cheat” time and again. Yet, according to experts, this site at Qom is probably too small to provide enough uranium for a peaceful civilian nuclear program. Furthermore, it is probably large enough to develop enough enriched uranium for a bomb.
Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is subject to inspections by the IAEA of its civilian nuclear facilities, all of which must be declared to the IAEA. Also, as a nation that did not possess nuclear weapons at the signing of the NPT in 1968, Iran is forbidden from pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, including attempts to produce highly-enriched uranium.
And only days after the world learned of Iran’s uranium enrichment plant, Iran made more news and sparked more outrage as it successfully tested the long-range Shahab-3 and Sajjil-2 missiles. The missiles’ range is long enough to strike most targets in the Middle East, including Israel, and their tests directly coincided with Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday.
In light of Ahmadinejad’s previous, well-documented anti-Semitic rhetoric and threats against Israel, Iran’s secret nuclear plants and the missile tests further undermine Iran’s assertions of peaceful intentions. Clandestine developments and threatening actions certainly do not help Iran’s attempts to prove itself legitimate in its actions.
The Ongoing Fight
For years, Iran has been bobbed and weaved around the international community using cumbersome rhetoric and sloppy footwork, yet it has managed repeatedly to force this match to another round. Thus far, the international community has rejected strength in favor of timidity. It has ducked for cover behind ineffective resolutions from the Security Council.
Despite its cheating, the referees have allowed Iran to remain in the match on multiple occasions. Obama’s forced revelation about the Qom site – a potential sucker punch and point for leverage in the U.S.’s direct talks with Iran – proved to be less effective than it could have been. But Iran’s using the missile tests to balk at the international community just ahead of its talks with the U.S. may give the Obama Administration just enough leverage.
The Administration must be ready to follow through with sanctions against Iran and be able to convince China and Russia to do the same. Furthermore, the Administration has to reject the coming assault of the same Iranian rhetoric – assertions of unfair treatment, denials of wrong-doing, affirmations of its complete compliance.
Whether the Administration’s own tough words will be backed with enough force to damage Iran and claim a victory in the end remains unclear. It is clear, however, that action is exactly what this country and the world need, for a nuclear-armed Iran would be a loss we cannot afford.