It was a relief to see President Bush take some meaningful action in response to Russia’s aggression against Georgia on Wednesday — something beyond looking sternly into Vladimir Putin’s soul between beach volleyball serves in Beijing. Thursday’s announcement that U.S. missile batteries will be installed in Poland is also welcome. More telling, though, is the step the president hasn’t taken: a necessary step, but one tantamount to a concession that the administration’s Iran policy has been a farce.
The president must withdraw the U.S.-Russia civil-nuclear cooperation agreement, submitted in all its naïveté to an appropriately hostile Congress back in May.
The episode marks one of the innumerable foreign-policy lowlights of the second Bush term. It proceeds logically from the worst of these blunders: the failure to confront Iran as it developed offensive nuclear capabilities, evolved its ballistic missile arsenal, murdered Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, and colluded with other terrorist factions plotting to kill Americans everywhere — all with direct or tacit Russian encouragement.
The nuclear cooperation pact is premised on the fantasy, subscribed by the president and the Russian dictator in a joint declaration on April 6, that the United States and Russia have struck a “strategic partnership” — a fantasy to which, one hopes, the lie was finally put when Red Army tanks rolled toward the central Georgian city of Gori even after the supposed “ceasefire.”
The deal would involve providing Russia with American advanced nuclear know-how, the joint global promotion of nuclear power for peaceful civilian uses, and expanded energy commerce (including nuclear commerce) between our nations. It would also help pave the way for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which is kind of like welcoming the Gambino Family into the Chamber of Commerce.
For here is the problem: Putin, for whom “strategic partner” is just a side-line from his full-time gig as Capo di Tutti Commie, has all the while been arming and protecting our most determined enemies.
PROLIFERATING IN AND OUT OF PLAIN SIGHT
In small compass, Russia tells the sorry story of Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s Carteresque turn at the State Department. The President Bush of the first term — you remember, the guy who announced the Bush Doctrine, smashed al-Qaeda, isolated Arafat’s nascent terror state, ousted Saddam, inspired Qaddafi to forfeit his nukes, squeezed Kim Jong Il — strongly condemned Russia’s facilitation of the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. With good reason. Purportedly dedicated to peaceful civilian energy development, Bushehr gives the oil-rich Khomeinists all the cover they need to build atomic weapons.
Let’s consider for a moment only the low enriched uranium Russia delivers to Bushehr every 12 to 18 months. In June, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told a House committee that, at the start of the fueling cycle, Iran could divert the fresh uranium to feed its centrifuge enrichment plant. If they did, they’d have “a bomb’s worth of weapon uranium” within about eight weeks. Alternatively, if Iran waited until refueling is next due in 2010, it could seize the spent fuel and “gain access to 30 crude bombs worth of near-weapons grade plutonium to make plutonium weapons.”
Would the Russians really tolerate such a thing right across the Caspian Sea? At the right price, Putin would tolerate anything.
Like any sensible person living in the real world (so we are not talking now about American and European diplomats), the Russians know it is a virtual flip of the atomic switch to go from civilian to military capabilities. Yet they’ve pressed zealously ahead. As Sokolski details, there are about 1300 Russian nuclear technicians in Iran, a number that will soon surge to over 2500 (if it hasn’t already). And we know the Russo/Iranian nuclear cooperation encompasses more than the Bushehr camouflage. No one but the Russians and the Iranians know exactly what the technicians are up to, and Russian “entities” already have a history of assisting the mullahs’ plutonium production and uranium-enrichment efforts.
And then there is missile technology. Sokolski cited a British Daily Telegraph report (first noted by the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen) that
former high ranking members of the Russian military have facilitated a multi-million 2003 missile technology transfer agreement between Iran and North Korea,” and that Russia has exported to Iran “production facilities, diagrams and operating instructions so the missile can be built in Iran, as well as liquid propellant (to fuel the rockets).” The British paper goes on to detail how “Russian specialists have also been sent to Iran to help development of its Shahab 5 missile project.” The Shahab 5 is a system that is designed to be capable of delivering a crude nuclear warhead to nearly any target in Europe.
Just this February, moreover, Iran launched a rocket modeled on Russia’s single-stage SS-4 intermediate-range ballistic missile. That is, thanks to Russia, Iran may already have the capacity to visit on Israel, Europe, and its own neighbors the same sort of intimidation the Russians are now visiting on former Soviet satellites.
None of this is a surprise. Indeed, in March 2007 (i.e., before the U.S. troop surge kicked in), when it appeared that Iranian terror would likely cause a humiliating U.S. defeat in Iraq, the Director of National Intelligence warned the State Department: “We assess that individual Russian entities continue to provide assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile programs. We judge that Russian-entity assistance, along with assistance from entities in China and North Korea, has helped Iran move toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles.”
The administration responded to this stream of provocation by asking Congress to ignore it, proceeding in its delusion that Russia is a friend rather than an enemy.