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Ultimately A Regime Change Will Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat
by David Johnson
11 March 2004

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.


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 program."

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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