Iran Crosses the Red Line
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | May 17, 2007
has officially crossed the “red line” in its nuclear weapons
development. That is the conclusion a team of International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors reached after a surprise inspection of
Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz this past Sunday.
The inspectors gave the
Iranians just two hours notice before they arrived on the scene, not
enough time for the Iranians to hide suspicious or illicit activities.
Nor was it enough time,
according to diplomats familiar with what the inspectors saw, for the
Iranians to fake the 1,300 enrichment centrifuges humming away.
Until recently, Iran had
been having difficulty in making the centrifuges work together in
production lines known as “cascades,” IAEA Director General Mohammad
ElBaradei has been telling IAEA Board members.
But presto! In just a few
months time, the Iranians have mastered this challenging technology.
“We believe they pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich,”
ElBaradei told the New York Times in an interview that appeared on May
15. “From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge.
People will not like to hear it, but that’s a fact.”
There are two possible
reactions to ElBaradei’s comments. One can applaud him for having the
candor to proclaim these “facts” publicly instead of trying to hide
them, as his predecessor, the blind Swede Hans Blix, liked to do.(Blix
deserves a great deal of responsibility for the Iranian disaster,
having closed his eyes when clear indicators of Iran’s prohibited
nuclear activities were presented to him during the 1990s when he
headed the IAEA).
Or one can chastise Mr.
ElBaradei for not having used his Agency to do more to prevent what he
now calls the “inevitable” from having occurred.
Mr. ElBaradei does deserve
blame – but not for announcing Iran’s progress. He deserves blame for
concluding that world attention should now be focused on making “sure
[the Iranians] remain inside the treaty.”
The Iranian regime has
broken the Nonproliferation Treaty repeatedly. It broke the treaty by
pursuing a clandestine nuclear research and procurement program for 18
years, without notifying the IAEA of its activities. It broke the
treaty by purchasing documents and equipment to manufacture uranium
“hemispheres,” a polite way of describing nuclear bomb cores. Even the
IAEA has acknowledged this.
In August 2005, the State
Department’s Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation
issued a legal “finding” that “Iran is pursuing an effort to
manufacture nuclear weapons, and has sought and received assistance in
this effort in violation of Article II of the NPT.”
Now, when a member state
violates the NPT, the treaty calls for them to be referred to the
United Nations Security Council for judgment.
ElBaradei deserves blame
because he repeatedly urged the Europeans (and the Bush administration)
to put off that referral, on grounds that the EU3 – France, Germany and
the UK – could negotiate Iran back into compliance with the Treaty.
This was not only foolish, it was dangerous.
I have warned repeatedly
against this rope-a-dope strategy. Noting the August 2005 statements of
Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, Hossein Moussavian, that nuclear
negotiations with the EU-3 had helped Iran by “buying time” so Iran
could finish key nuclear facilities, I urged the U.S. to apply the
treaty and take Iran immediately to the UN Security Council.
But ElBaradei said no,
there was still time to negotiate. And EU leaders, spearheaded by
then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, agreed. (To their credit, the
German people ousted Schroeder in elections not long afterwards).
The real blame, however, lies elsewhere.
The IAEA has no enforcement
powers. Any action to punish Iran’s leadership must be taken by the UN
Security Council, or by sovereign nations acting on their own.
The Israelis have warned
for years that once Iran “crossed the red line” of mastering enrichment
technology, they would take military action. They have never said when,
or how. But they have assumed, rightly, that any Iranian nuclear weapon
would have ISRAEL written all over it, and are determined to prevent it
from being built.
But why should we shuck off
this responsibility on Israel? Israel has not helped Iran acquire
nuclear technologies. Nor has Israel kept quiet as the Iranians
continued to build weapons-related facilities. On the contrary, the
Israelis have done their utmost to wake up the world to Iran’s nuclear
progress and to the dangers that presents, sending teams of diplomats
to quietly present the case to their counterparts around the world, and
when that failed, sending out senior government officials to sound the
alarm in public.
The real blame lies right here in Washington with our government, and especially, with our CIA and our State Department.
With Porter Goss gone, the
CIA has returned to a delicious slumber when it comes to Iran. And they
have been led back to Dreamland by their overseers at the Director of
National Intelligence, whose brilliant analysts – many of whom are
proud alumni of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and
Research – concluded last year that Iran would not succeed in building
a nuclear weapon until “early to mid- next decade.”
That five to ten year
estimate is meaningless, of course. Its relationship to reality was
similar to a child’s relationship to counting: one-two-too many!
Five to ten years, of course, meant never. Not soon. Not on my watch.
And yet it’s here. Now. On their watch.
The blame falls on Gen.
Michael Hayden, and on his deputy Steven Kappes, for failing to muster
Agency collectors and analysts to inject realism and urgency into the
The blame falls on Gen.
Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, who failed to
fire the outlandish State Department holdover, Thomas Fingar, who wrote
the Dreamland estimate that Iran was five to ten years away from
The blame falls on
Condoleeza Rice, and especially on Undersecretary of State Nicholas
Burns, for failing to take timely action to prevent Iran from
“slow-rolling” the diplomacy, which they could see the Iranians doing
from a mile away.
And the blame falls on President Bush, for failing to lead.
This was all so predictable, and so avoidable. And yet it happened – on Bush’s watch.
Undersecretary of State
Nicholas Burns has promised a third round of “sanctions” at the United
Nations. This is to substitute process for real progress– but hey,
that’s what the State Department does.
ElBaradei and the New York
Times are hoping that the U.S. will now see reason, and make
accommodations with a nuclear Iran. But appeasement will only encourage
Tehran’s leaders to become bolder and more brazen. (To Nick Burns’s
credit, he has rejected that temptation.)
The way forward has been
blazed by the Department of Treasury, and by courageous and imaginative
state legislators in California, Maryland, and Ohio, and by the State
Treasury of Missouri, Sarah Steelman.
Treasury has worked quietly
behind the scenes over the past year to strike bilateral agreements
with other countries to ban Iran from the international financial
system. These efforts have gotten the Iranians’ attention.
The State legislators are
working on Divest Terror bills that would ban state pension funds from
investing in companies that do business in Iran. This has got the
attention of some of the major companies, most notably DaimlerChrysler,
which in response is furiously seeking buyers for its U.S. assets, in
the vain hope it can retreat beyond the reach of U.S. institutional
It has also gotten the
attention of Democrats in Congress, who announced yesterday they were
introducing their own Divest terror legislation, aimed at enabling the
states to pursue these strategies.
How do we know that the
financial and investment squeeze has been successful? Just listen to
Abbas Bolurfrushan, who until March 2007 headed the Iranian Business
Council in Dubai.
Until now, he said,
economic sanctions imposed unilaterally by the United States and
multilaterally by the United Nations have had “little effect” on the
“But the American
government has persuaded a lot of international bankers to stop dealing
with Iran, and most of them have taken this advice or these
instructions. So the economic grip on Iranian banks has really had a
lot of effect on international trade.”
Bolurfrushan was talking to
the Council on Foreign Relations, which was hoping to use him as
Exhibit A for lifting sanctions on Iran. But the impact of what he said
went directly contrary.
When asked about reports in
the Western press that Iran’s economy was suffering under sanctions, he
responded candidly. “They might be a little overblown, but basically
they are true. The economy is under pressure from the isolation of Iran
economically and politically. And especially by the brain drain.”
The State Department
believes we can increase the pressure on Iran, until the Tehran regime
cries “uncle” and changes its behavior. Spokesman Tom Casey repeated
this strategy on Tuesday, following ElBaradei’s revelations.
“[W]e do believe that we
are on the right course, that there is time to resolve this
diplomatically, and that we will -- through this combination of
pressure and sanctions, with the opportunity on the other end to
achieve negotiations -- be able to ultimately change their behavior and
be able to reverse this program,” Casey said.
There is no time left to be
polite. The United States must dramatically ramp up the economic,
political, and diplomatic pressure on Tehran if it wants to have any
impact at all on this regime’s behavior.
It’s time now to talk about
an international trade embargo, and an international investment
embargo. It’s time to talk about banning Iranian leaders from
More than anything, it’s
time to get serious about helping the pro-democracy movement inside
Iran. The one thing the regime truly fears is that the West will help
spark a “velvet revolution” in Iran.
Now it’s time to actually do something to show that those fears are more than just mullah paranoia.