U-turns on Iran

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ImageLos Angeles Times – Editorial: Finally, Europe is ready to step up sanctions. Stonewalling. Obfuscation. Threats. Two years of Iranian intransigence have removed any doubt that the leadership in Tehran is determined to develop the technology for a nuclear bomb — if not the weapons themselves — as quickly as possible.

The Los Angeles Times

Editorial

ImageFinally, Europe is ready to step up sanctions.

Stonewalling. Obfuscation. Threats. Two years of Iranian intransigence have removed any doubt that the leadership in Tehran is determined to develop the technology for a nuclear bomb — if not the weapons themselves — as quickly as possible. And after more than two years of giving Iran the benefit of every doubt, and last weekend sweetening their offer of incentives if it agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment, the European Union and Britain announced Monday that they will at last impose tougher financial sanctions.

Of course, the sanctions are mainly symbolic, and Iran will find ways to circumvent them. But that does not make them any less important politically. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been able to capitalize on the global unpopularity of President Bush, dismissing legitimate international concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions as an attempt by a warmongering, intelligence-cooking enemy to subjugate and humiliate another Muslim nation. But Ahmadinejad will have a harder time making the case that Britain's Labor prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the European Union are the lap dogs of the lame-duck U.S. president.

What prompted this belated European action? Among other things, a damning report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Bush's longtime nemesis, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, unexpectedly threw up his hands this month and declared that Iran had not provided sufficient information to refute the West's allegations about an Iranian nuclear program. ElBaradei's mistrust of the Bush administration is legendary, so insiders were startled to see that he has finally stopped worrying so much about U.S. military action against Iran and started worrying more about Iran actually getting a nuclear bomb.

ElBaradei's U-turn follows an about-face by the Bush administration, which, after several years of declining to share its much-maligned intelligence with the IAEA, finally handed the agency a dossier on what Iran was actually up to. ElBaradei, who had also been blindsided by the Israeli allegation that Syria had been building a secret nuclear plant about which the U.N. nuclear watchdog knew nothing, must have realized that the agency's credibility — and his own — would be seriously damaged if he continued to remain neutral in the face of mounting evidence of an Iranian weapons program.

Iran may proceed to make bombs despite British and European opprobrium, and Russia and China may continue to block stronger action by the U.N. Security Council. The Western powers must keep working to raise the political cost for such defiance. And if Iran cannot divide Europe from America, it will find it harder to use a nuclear arsenal to gain the regional power it so fervently desires.

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