Wall Street Journal Europe: It is now clear that the Western world finds itself in "last chance saloon" when it comes to stopping Iran from getting its hands on nuclear weapons.
The Wall Street Journal Europe
By BRIAN BINLEY
It is now clear that the Western world finds itself in "last chance saloon" when it comes to stopping Iran from getting its hands on nuclear weapons. The United Nations nuclear watchdog warned last month that Tehran has stockpiled over a ton of enriched uranium which could easily be converted into weapons-grade material. Diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency also pointed out that Iran had possibly underreported by a third the amount of uranium it had enriched to date.
At a precommissioning ceremony for Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr, the head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization Gholamreza Aghazadeh confirmed: "Currently we have 6,000 running centrifuges in Natanz and we will increase our activities to install more by the end of next year." And as if to dispel any illusions Western politicians may have, he added: "Our plan to install and run centrifuges is not based on political conditions. We have a plan and we will go ahead with it." President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Tehran plans to install at least 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium.
Time is running out for the West to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs.
Ever since the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran blew the whistle on Iran's uranium enrichment and heavy-water production sites at Natanz and Arak in 2002, EU leaders have been vainly attempting to negotiate with the mullahs. Europeans have offered countless packages of incentives — all of which Tehran rejected.
At first we were taken in by Iran's former President Mohammad Khatami and his gentle demeanor. But we should have realized from the moment his regime's nuclear-weapons projects were exposed by the opposition coalition that his show of moderation and calls for dialogue among the nations were simply a smokescreen.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, Iran's opposition warned that the country's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had chosen to go down the path of confrontation. But we failed to recognize the truth of these warnings and have consequently failed to act meaningfully over the past four years.
No one can claim the West didn't try everything to strike a grand bargain with the mullahs. We went down every conceivable avenue, offering every possible incentive. Last July the Bush administration even broke America's three-decade-long boycott of direct contact with Iranian officials. But the mullahs still refused to abandon their uranium enrichment activities.
It is time to admit that no matter how hard we try, Iran just does not want to bargain. The Supreme Leader sends his negotiating envoys to European capitals and to New York simply to buy more time to press ahead with Iran's nuclear projects. After three sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions, time is no longer on our side. We need to act fast.
I am not advocating military action at this stage but there are important pressure points that we need to exploit. The regime has two developing crises to confront. First, many young Iranians are frustrated with the regime's bleak economic and human rights record. In February, for example, hundreds of students chanted "Death to the dictator" at Tehran's prestigious Amirkabir University. Despite dozens of arrests, the protest quickly spread to the University of Tehran. At least 5,000 antigovernment demonstrations were held by Iranian students, workers and women's rights activists in 2008, suggesting that much of Iran's society is far from happy with the status quo.
The regime's other predicament is the global economic meltdown and its effect on the Iranian oil market. Crude oil and gas exports account for 80% of Iran's annual revenues. Many senior regime officials think it's a mistake for the Supreme Leader to go head on with the West over the nuclear program and Iran's continued support for terrorists in the Middle East.
If we step up economic and trade sanctions on Iran now while giving clear messages of support to Iran's brave dissidents, the already fragile regime may not be able to weather the storm.
With Iran's youths yearning for freedom, the West has the capacity to help encourage develop a movement capable of creating democratic change for a nuclear-free Iran. Surely, that is where Western interests lie.
Mr. Binley is a Conservative member of the British Parliament.