Iran and the bomb

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New York Times – Editorial: Fortunately, Iran is believed to still be several years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons. But it has now embarked on a course that can have no other plausible intent.
New York Times

Editorial

Fortunately, Iran is believed to still be several years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons. But it has now embarked on a course that can have no other plausible intent.

Turning its back on generous European and Russian offers that would have guaranteed its supplies of civilian reactor fuel, helped its economy, added jobs and lessened its diplomatic isolation, this week Tehran unsealed the centrifuges it can now use to enrich uranium to bomb-grade levels.

By doing so, it thumbed its nose at all those governments, including the United States, that had been working patiently and creatively to find a diplomatic formula that met everyone’s needs without adding to nuclear dangers. Now those countries – along with China, whose veto power on the United Nations Security Council makes it an essential participant – need to look for new ways to stop, or at least slow down, Iran’s nuclear weapons drive.

Every new addition to the roster of nuclear weapons states significantly raises the odds that nuclear weapons will be used in war, or will become available to terrorists. Those dangers are especially acute in the case of Iran under its radically belligerent leadership, which has called for the elimination of Israel and maintains close ties with groups that have embraced terrorism.

The problem is that no one has yet come up with any very good ways of deflecting Iran from its nuclear course. Nature has given it all the raw uranium it needs. With help from the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, it has acquired uranium enrichment centrifuges and possibly a workable bomb design. And thanks to its ample oil reserves, it has the means to withstand all but the most sweeping and universally enforced sanctions.

Even if the United States and Europe got the Iran case referred to the United Nations Security Council, it is not clear what that body would or wouldn’t do. Even if Russia and China could be persuaded to go along with sanctions, that might not be enough to pressure Iran, a major oil exporter whose leadership doesn’t seem to care very much about other areas of international trade or diplomacy.

There are no realistic military options, especially for Washington. Iran is more than three times as large and nearly three times as populous as Iraq. And it is worth recalling that the ill-fated invasion of Iraq was first sold to the American public as the most promising way to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists and terrorist-friendly states.

Still, the world can scarcely afford to ignore Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its contempt for diplomacy. The inadequacy of nuclear proliferation safeguards is an argument for strengthening them, not for giving up and wishing for the best.

China and Russia should join the United States, Britain, France and Germany in putting Iran’s behavior before the Security Council and condemning it as a steadily growing threat. Plain talk and a united stand are never bad ideas, particularly when more conventional diplomacy has so far failed.

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