Patience pays in standoff with Iran

March 07, 2006|By ALAN W. DOWD

Barring some unforeseen breakthrough during this week's meetings in Vienna, Austria, the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to refer Iran's outlaw nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council, where a growing number of governments have concluded that it's time to rein in Tehran. One factor that has fueled this emerging consensus is Washington's patience.

With half of Iraq simmering and the other half smoldering, it could be said that the Bush administration's go-slow approach to Iran is Washington's way of making a virtue out of necessity.

Whatever the cause, some observers do not count the administration's newfound restraint as a virtue. Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, for instance, says we have "lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource negotiations."

Not exactly.

Without question, the White House has let the Europeans take the lead in the diplomatic dance with Tehran. But this stands to reason: After taking its case against Saddam Hussein to the United Nations, only to be ambushed, can anyone blame the administration for sitting out this round of diplomacy?

Moreover, because of fallout from the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, there is virtually no connective tissue between Washington and Tehran. With trade and diplomatic ties, the Europeans have leverage that the United States simply doesn't have.

But even if the Bush administration has "outsourced negotiations," it certainly hasn't played down the looming nuclear threat posed by the mullahs. As President Bush declared during this year's State of the Union address, "The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons." And these are only the latest words of warning from Mr. Bush.

In 2005: "We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing."

In 2004: "America and the international community are demanding that Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons."

In 2003: "In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction and supports terror."

In 2002: "Our ... goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. ... Iran aggressively pursues these weapons."

As to the charge that the White House has wasted time with its deliberate approach to Iran, wasn't the administration pounded at home and abroad for moving too fast in Iraq?

In fact, the time spent allowing Iran to bully and bluster the IAEA, while the Europeans spun their wheels in an alphabet soup of watchdog agencies, has been an investment. And that investment is beginning to pay dividends.

Specifically, the Bush administration's patience has allowed the facts to speak for themselves: Why would a country with oil reserves of 130.8 billion barrels so desperately crave nuclear power?

Should a regime that dreams of the elimination of one of its neighbors be allowed unfettered access to the only substance that can bring about such a nightmare? And with nuclear weapons within reach, and radicalized leaders in place, is it difficult to imagine Iran giving the world an ultimatum between a latter-day Holocaust and a latter-day Diaspora? After all, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly said that Israel should be wiped off the map or its citizens relocated to Europe.

After smugly playing good cop to America's bad cop, Europe has finally begun to face these hard facts. But don't take my word for it.

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "Iran's nuclear program prompts the justified suspicion, the justified concern, the justified fear that its goal is not the peaceful utilization of nuclear energy, but that military considerations are also in play."

Pointing to the mullahs' subterranean labs, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy concludes, "It is a clandestine military nuclear program. The international community has sent a very firm message in telling the Iranians to return to reason ... but they aren't listening to us."

Even the agnostic IAEA now concedes, "The uncertainties related to the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program have not been clarified after three years."

In short, these months of patient waiting have isolated Tehran, strengthened Washington's hand and allowed the world to see the Iranian regime for the threat that it is. But if history is any guide, it will take more than strong words from European leaders - or second-guessing from U.S. senators - to answer this threat.

Alan W. Dowd is a senior fellow at Sagamore Institute for Policy Research. His e-mail is alan@spir.org.

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