Persian Peril?

Are Iran’s mullahs hell-bent on going nuclear? And how can we know for sure?


U.S. intelligence has long suspected that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, notwithstanding Tehran’s claims that it’s merely researching nuclear power. With the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting this week, the question of the Iran’s intentions returns to the fore.

In Vienna, the I.A.E.A. is still working out the details of a resolution to censure Iran for its lack of full cooperation. Iran responded to the criticism by threatening to reconsider its agreements altogether, and possibly to pursue unspecified “other alternatives” to compliance. Which presumably means non-compliance.

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub detailed the difficulty of forcing a country to comply with non-proliferation agreements. He points to failures of intelligence (such as the international community’s total ignorance of Iran’s Natanz uranium plant — until 2002 when it was up and running ) and cites the problems of enforcement (as when North Korea simply pulled out of its safeguard agreements after its weapons program was discovered).

Alireza Jafarzadeh – the Iranian exile who previously reported the existence of the Natanz facility – told Reuters that Iran is simply playing a “cat-and-mouse” game with inspectors:

“Their cooperation is intended to confuse the I.A.E.A., to divert their attention to buy time while they get closer to their goal — a weapon … Their strategy is to keep this inspection process going as long as possible, to keep the inspectors busy, and then pull the plug and leave the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Meanwhile, a Saudi paper reports Iran is massing troops on its border with Iraq. And as Geoffrey Kemp, a former White House specialist on the Middle East told the Baltimore Sun, Iran’s proximity to the chaos in Iraq gives it some considerable leverage:

“The reality is that Iran has lots of ways to make life very unpleasant for us in Iraq. The Iranian card in Iraq serves as a counterpoint to our enormous pressure on them over the nuclear issue.”

For its part, the U.S. restated its goal of making Iran adhere to its agreements:

“We and others have made clear all along that Iran has obligations under its international agreements, Iran has requirements from the (I.A.E.A.) board and Iran has commitments that Iran has made itself that we and others expect Iran to live up to,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told the Associated Press.

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