An end to secrecy

November 16, 2003

FOR THE PAST 18 years, Iran appears to have successfully disguised its nuclear ambitions, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. And no one who has seen that IAEA report can confidently believe Tehran's insistence that its ambitions are purely peaceful.

Indeed, the Bush administration views the report as damning proof of Tehran's true intention to build a nuclear weapons program and as reason to seek U.N. sanctions against the Iranian regime.

It's an understandable response, but the United Nations needs to know more about Iran's capabilities, not less, and sanctions hardly seem likely to further that goal. What's more, isolating Iran further from the world community would only strengthen hard-liners' interest in a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA's governing body meets Thursday to determine if Iran should be found in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; that would automatically turn the issue over to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of punishing sanctions. Some members oppose that course, and they're right to do so. The alternative is a stern rebuke from the IAEA that falls short of declaring Iran to be in noncompliance with the treaty. Coupling that with the introduction by the agency of "a particularly robust" monitoring system would be a sound response to this troubling report.

Tehran, if it hopes to resolve the world's doubts about its intentions, must honor its pledge of last month to provide unfettered access to its nuclear sites and make good on its recent agreement to temporarily cease production of enriched uranium.

It's hard not to be cynical about Iran's recent cooperation with the international body. But moderates there have urged more transparency because they recognize the harm a showdown over Iran's nuclear program could have on its standing in the international community. This is not the time for that community to undercut them.

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