Berlin–Twenty points down in the polls just one month before the September 18 general election, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is up to his old tricks.
Three years ago, facing a similar disadvantage in the polls against his Christian Democrat Party (CDU) opponent, Schroeder placed his bets on the anti-American fears and fantasies of a certain portion of his electorate and ran his campaign against President Bush and the war in Iraq. These past weeks, Schroeder has made it clear he was hoping to play the same card this election season, accusing the Americans of plotting a military campaign against Iran.
“The military option must be taken off the table,” Schroeder told supporters at a campaign stop earlier this month, referring to the coming nuclear showdown with Iran. “We have seen that this type of thing does not work.”
But if military action has become increasingly likely as the only way of tempering the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic republic of Iran, it is precisely because of Schroeder, the policies of his government, and the actions of his diplomats.
For the past three years, Iran has played a cat-and-mouse game with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. IAEA director-general Mohammad ElBaradei first informed the IAEA board of governors that Iran had broken its commitments to nuclear transparency in June 2003, when inspectors discovered extensive evidence in Iran of 18 years of clandestine nuclear activity.
Instead of taking Iran to the U.N. Security Council for further action–most likely, some form of economic sanctions–the United States agreed to Schroeder’s proposal that Germany, France, and Britain be allowed to negotiate a deal with Tehran to suspend and ultimately eliminate its previously clandestine uranium-enrichment program. In exchange for Iran’s cooperation with the EU-3, the United States agreed not to press for sanctions.
The Iranians initially agreed to “temporarily suspend” work at a uranium-conversion plant in Isfahan, and to stop producing uranium-enrichment centrifuges. Despite that pledge, in September 2004 Iran introduced 37 tons of natural uranium into the processing lines at Isfahan in order to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the feedstock for centrifuge enrichment.
Faced with this act of open defiance, Germany’s top arms-control official, Friedrich Groening, insisted that Iran was keeping its promises and accused the United States of playing politics with Iran’s nuclear program. When the IAEA board of governors met in September 2004 behind closed doors to discuss Iran’s violations of its safeguards agreement with the agency and the temporary nuclear freeze, Groening led the charge against the Americans. “We have no evidence that the Iranians are seeking to build weapons,” he told U.S. delegate Jackie Wolcott Sanders.
Out in the corridors, Groening told reporters that there was “no way” the Europeans were going to hand President Bush a diplomatic victory just two months before the U.S. elections, especially since the Europeans were absolutely convinced that Bush was going to lose.
On November 22, 2004, the Iranians again pledged to the Europeans that they would freeze all nuclear activities, not just centrifuge production. Throughout the “freeze,” however, they continued to build centrifuges and worked to complete the Isfahan facility and the enrichment plant at Natanz. They also continued to produce uranium tetraflouride (UF4)–an intermediate step needed to make UF6 gas for enrichment.
In December 2004, Iran’s IAEA delegate, Hossein Mousavian, told reporters in Vienna that such violations were Iran’s right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. “It is natural that the Islamic Republic continues all its nuclear activities. Iran has only suspended the fuel cycle voluntarily, in the framework of its policy to build trust, without any legal obligations,” he said.
On the eve of an emergency session of the IAEA’s board of governors in Vienna earlier this month, Mousavian revealed to an Iranian television interviewer that Tehran had used the Europeans to “buy time” to complete their nuclear facilities. This is exactly what the Bush administration had been warning about for more than a year.
The IAEA had initially given Iran a 50-day ultimatum to cease all nuclear-fuel activities, including work on centrifuges and construction at the uranium-conversion facility (UCF) in Isfahan. “But thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year, in which we completed the [UCF] in Isfahan,” he said.
Only Europe’s policy of appeasement, driven enthusiastically by Schroeder, allowed Iran to become the nuclear threat it is today. Moussavian explained in detail how Iran got the better of the EU-3.
“We suspended the UCF in Isfahan in October 2004, although we were required to do so in October 2003,” he said. “If we had suspended it then, [the UCF] in Isfahan would have never been completed. Today we are in a position of power: [The UCF] in Isfahan is complete and UF4 and UF6 gases are being produced. We have a stockpile of products, and during this period we have managed to convert 36 tons of yellowcake into gas and store it. In Natanz, much of the work has been completed. Thanks to our dealings with Europe, even when we got a 50-day ultimatum, we managed to continue the work for two years.”
Even France has seen through Schroeder’s dangerous charade. When Iran announced it was resuming nuclear-enrichment work on August 1, French foreign minister Philippe Doust-Blazy said that Iran’s continued defiance meant “we will need to go to the Security Council” for sanctions.
The Bush administration turned over negotiations with Iran to the EU3 precisely to avoid military action. That military action–by Israel, if not the U.S.–has grown more likely is the fruit of Shroeder’s starry-eyed acceptance of the bald lies from Tehran’s leaders.
The time of nuclear reckoning with the Islamic republic of Iran has come. German voters must now judge the reckless policies of a German chancellor who has helped the world’s most dedicated terrorist regime acquire the capabilities to build the world’s most deadly weapons.
–Kenneth R. Timmerman’s latest book, Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, was released in June. His articles are available at www.kentimmerman.com.