OpinionIran in the World PressThe ‘crazies’ and Iran

The ‘crazies’ and Iran

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New York Times – Editorial: Like Mohamed ElBaradei, we want to make sure what he calls the “crazies” don’t start a war with Iran. We fear his do-it-yourself diplomacy is playing right into the crazies’ hands — in Washington and Tehran.
The New York Times

Editorial

Published: September 27, 2007

Like Mohamed ElBaradei, we want to make sure what he calls the “crazies” don’t start a war with Iran. We fear his do-it-yourself diplomacy is playing right into the crazies’ hands — in Washington and Tehran.

Last month, Mr. ElBaradei, the chief nuclear inspector for the United Nations, cut his own deal with Iran’s government, intended to answer questions about its secretive nuclear past. Unfortunately, it made no mention of Iran’s ongoing, very public refusal to stop enriching uranium — usable for nuclear fuel or potentially a nuclear weapon — in defiance of Security Council orders.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wasn’t shy about explaining what a great deal he’d gotten: gloating that the dispute over his country’s nuclear program is now “closed.” That’s not true, but the deal has given Russia and China another reason to delay imposing new sanctions on Iran for its continued defiance.

We’d like to hear the answers to a lot of those outstanding questions. Among our favorites: Has Iran built more sophisticated uranium centrifuges for a clandestine program? And, what were Iran’s scientists planning to do with designs, acquired from Pakistan, to mold uranium into shapes that look remarkably like the core of a nuclear weapon?

According to the so-called work plan agreed to by Mr. ElBaradei, Iran will address one set of questions at a time, and move on to the next set only after his inspectors have closed the file on the previous set. If, true to form, the Iranians dole out just enough information to keep the inspectors asking, the process could drag on and on.

That would give Iran more time, cover and confidence to continue mastering enrichment and producing nuclear fuel. The further along the Iranians get, the greater our fear that President Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, will decide that one more war isn’t going to do their reputation much harm.

Some critics charge that the Nobel Prize has gone to Mr. ElBaradei’s head and that he’s decided that international peacemaker (and holding off George Bush) is his true life calling — not nuclear inspector. The more charitable explanation is that he believes he’s the only one who can stop what he fears is an imminent war.

We fervently wish that Mr. Bush and the American Congress had listened to Mr. ElBaradei in 2003 when he said there was no evidence that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program. But the key to Mr. ElBaradei’s credibility then, and what makes the International Atomic Energy Agency so indispensable, is he was offering his agency’s clear scientific judgment.

Once he started making diplomatic deals, that judgment — essential not only for ensuring that Iran, but also a half-dozen other states, don’t go nuclear — immediately becomes suspect.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained last week that the I.A.E.A. shouldn’t be in the business of diplomacy. Yes, that’s her job. And she’s not done nearly enough to try to get the Iranians to sit down at the table with a credible offer of comprehensive talks. Sanctions alone are unlikely to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, especially at the rate the Security Council is moving.

We can see why Mr. ElBaradei was tempted. The only way he can recoup now is by insisting that Iran do what the Security Council has ordered: Suspend enrichment and answer all the questions about its nuclear past.

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