A Regime Change Will Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat
11 March 2004
IAEA’s Iran report released last week, short of an actual bomb attached to
it, leaves no doubt that Tehran does have a nuclear weapons program.
What does it take
for the European Union’s Big-3 (Britain, France, and Germany) to conclude
that Iran indeed possesses a nuclear weapons program? Given their lucrative
trade relations and regional geopolitical rivalries with the United States,
the EU-3 may believe they have legitimate reasons for leniency towards Tehran,
but the specter of an Iran – the most active state sponsor of terrorism –
armed with nuclear weapons is too frightening and too destabilizing to let
appeasers in the EU to take the lead. The US must demonstrate firm leadership
to prevent mullahs’ from reaching the nuclear point of no return.
The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meeting this
week and Iran is at the top of the agenda. The IAEA’s Iran report released
last week, short of an actual bomb attached to it, leaves no doubt that Tehran
does have a nuclear weapons program.
Late last year, after 18 years of deception and double talk, Iran was forced
to acknowledge it had been secretly developing a nuclear capability, in violation
of relevant non-proliferation protocols. The IAEA’s report last year chronicled
staggering breaches of Iran’s obligations to its international commitments.
The details of Iran’s secret activities provided a stunning picture of a
strategic and sophisticated program which began in the mid-80s. As Gary Samore
of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, said: "This
is unquestionably a bomb program… The purpose is to develop a weapons material
capability. Nothing else makes sense given the scale of Iran's nuclear power
In November, however, in what amounted to just a slap on the wrist, the IAEA
board opted not to sanction Iran for those breaches. The last minute intervention
by the EU-3’s foreign ministers provided some breathing room for Iran’s rulers.
Although there were ample indications that the mullahs had no intention of
saying farewell to their nuclear weapons program, the EU-3 hailed the deal
brokered with Tehran as a big victory. Most experts scoffed at the idea,
saying that the deal was full of loopholes and wiggle room for Iran, and
would provide the mullahs a fig leaf with which to buy time and continue
to play their hide-and-cheat game with the IAEA.
The European Union is by far Iran's biggest trade partner, accounting for
28 % of Iran's exports and imports in 2001, more than twice as much as second-place
Japan. And the French banks are the No.1 lender to Iran, having lent Tehran
about $2.5 billion.
Tehran’s past conduct and attempt to exert its dominance in the Gulf region,
leaves no doubt that it has strategic goals in developing nuclear arms. In
the mid-1980’s, Tehran’s leaders came to the conclusion that they needed
a non-conventional arsenal to gain the upper hand in the region and fulfill
their hegemonic desires, and adopted asymmetric warfare as the cornerstone
of their military doctrine. It would be naïve to suggest that Iran's
rulers have since had a change of heart.
And far from suggestions that mullahs are now willingly cooperating with
the IAEA, it was the intense international pressure following last year’s
revelations by the Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance
of Iran, and subsequent IAEA inspections of nuclear sites in cities of Natanz,
Arak and Tehran, that forced the clerics to buckle under.
Now, more than three months of IAEA’s scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear program
has revealed more startling facts about Tehran’s nuclear facilities and know-how.
Typical of Mr. Mohammed ElBaradei, the IAEA Director General, he put the
most optimistic face on this damning report, describing a “sea of change”
in Iran’s cooperation with the agency.
The recent report shows that Iran has been running multiple uranium-enrichment
programs, none of which were originally declared to the IAEA’s inspectors.
Several were kept secret even after the last November agreement. The IAEA
also reported that Iran’s Military Industrial Organization (MIO) was directing
some nuclear activity. This revelation undermined Tehran’s claims about running
a civilian nuclear program. Indeed, it was again the Iranian opposition,
the National Council of Resistance, which originally revealed last July that
the MIO had a new nuclear site at a military facility near Tehran where centrifuge
equipment for processing enriched uranium was installed.
Despite these revelations, the EU gave Iran yet another fig leaf; it rejected
a U.S. push to refer Iran’s nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council for
possible sanctions. “The EU-3 has hijacked the process," one U.S. official
told Reuters, adding “there are countries out there who are always going
to give Iran the benefit of the doubt.” So it seems the clerics will continue
to deceive and lie while the EU continues to appease and pat the mullahs
on the back.
America’s national security interests and Middle East stability are far too
important to be left in the hands of the EU-3. This is where U.S. leadership
must remain unwavering in its demand that the Security Council take up Tehran’s
nuclear breaches. It must keep tightening the screws on Tehran and not allow
the clerics to squirm their way out. If Iran, “the most active state sponsor
of terrorism,” acquires a nuclear weapon, it would only be a matter of time
until the terrorist groups it supports will also have access to them.
In the long term, however, only a regime change will ensure that Iran will
be free of weapons of mass destruction. Simultaneous with its efforts in
the IAEA, the US administration should increase its support of the democracy
movement in Iran and embrace democratic opposition forces that are working
to oust the ruling mullahs. For now, Iran’s breach of its nuclear obligations
must be referred to the United Nations. Anything short of a referral is leniency.
No, it is lunacy.
David Johnson is a co-founder of the US Alliance for Democratic Iran and its Director of Operations.
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