Politics & Policy

Fatal Fool’S Game

Europeans ignore the deadly stakes in negotiating with Iran.

Here we go again. The game is nuclear rope-a-dope with a dictatorship. The U.S. played it with the North Koreans in 1994, and now the Europeans are going a round with the Iranians, with the same disastrous results almost assured.

Iran has announced that it will temporarily suspend uranium enrichment while negotiating with France, Germany, and England over the terms of a possible final nuclear deal. Such a deal would require Iran to halt uranium enrichment, a key step in producing nuclear weapons, in exchange for economic incentives as well as light-water reactors, access to fuel, and other support for its civilian nuclear-power program.

This final deal, even if it’s possible to reach (unlikely), would be terrible policy. It would basically mean trusting the mullahs to stop producing nuclear weapons, while at the same time making it easier for them to produce them. Light-water reactors are generally considered difficult to use for weapons production. In fact, they can “be a copious source of near-weapon grade plutonium,” according to a recent study by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. The Iranians could easily extract bomb-grade plutonium in small facilities that would be difficult to detect.

“The so-called EU3 are headed

toward folly, and are happy to embrace

farce on the way there.”

In short, it would be easy for Iran to continue its weapons program clandestinely even under a comprehensive European agreement. In fact, that’s precisely what North Korea did under the Clinton administration’s Agreed Framework, a similarly hapless attempt to bribe a nuclear weapon-seeking rogue state.

So, the so-called EU3 are headed toward folly, and are happy to embrace farce on the way there. Tehran will probably not cut even such a sweetheart final deal, exactly because it is so set on pursuing nuclear weapons. The mullahs don’t want to give up uranium enrichment. How do we know? They say it–all the time. Iranian National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani said on Tuesday, “Iran did not promise to stop enrichment but only to suspend it for a limited period of time.”

There is only one reason for such determination–Iran wants a nuke. Theoretically, uranium can be enriched to low levels and used for civilian purposes only. But Iran has no need for such a uranium-enrichment capability, since it sits on vast amounts of oil and natural gas and, in any case, the Europeans have promised to ensure that its civilian reactors are supplied with fuel. If a rogue state walks and talks as though it’s seeking a nuclear weapon, it’s seeking a nuclear weapon.

Diplomatically, Tehran has been wiping the floor with the EU3. This latest “breakthrough” came just in time to avoid a U.N. Security Council referral, which the Bush administration had been advocating. The Europeans have been negotiating with Iran since August 2003, and getting strung along the entire time as Tehran tries to extract more “carrots.” Tehran later reneged on its agreement to stop building centrifuges and enriching uranium, but the Europeans continued to negotiate anyway. Now, the Bush administration–apparently the only international actor serious about ending Iran’s nuclear program–will have to wait on the sidelines while the EU3 once again buys the mullahs time.

But sidelining the Bush administration is exactly the point for the EU3. They are desperate to prove that, unlike the cowboys in Washington, they can take care of global threats without resorting to force. As the EU expands, Germany and France are also realizing that they need a broader power base–hence the importance of having the Brits on board. Meanwhile, Tony Blair is anxious to establish that he is, after all, a good European.

No one should mistake what is really at stake here. As Colin Powell pointed out last week in a Santiago, Chile press conference, we have every reason to believe that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, and it has become ever harder for the international community to deny it (try as they might). In Iran, the world faces a potentially nuclear-armed terror state. All that phony diplomatic deals can achieve is to delay the day of reckoning, and maybe not even that.

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