Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: The United Nations Security Council last week adopted Resolution 1696, which demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment by August 31 or face the threat of international sanctions. That’s good news — assuming it doesn’t become an excuse for Iran to take many more months or years to comply. The Wall Street Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
August 7, 2006; Page A12
The United Nations Security Council last week adopted Resolution 1696, which demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment by August 31 or face the threat of international sanctions. That’s good news — assuming it doesn’t become an excuse for Iran to take many more months or years to comply.
That’s the risk the Bush administration now runs as it attempts to go through the Security Council to derail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton (he of presumed zero diplomatic skills) deserves credit for getting a resolution that finally puts the world’s main powers on record acknowledging Iran’s military threat. The U.N.’s own nuclear inspection agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been documenting Iran’s disdain for its anti-proliferation treaty commitments for nearly three years. And at least now the Security Council has set a deadline.
The resolution is especially welcome given the war in Lebanon begun by Iran’s terrorist client, Hezbollah, just when the G-8 countries were about to focus their meeting in St. Petersburg on Iran’s nuclear program last month. Iran wants to intimidate the world by showing how much trouble it can create if it imposes sanctions on Iran. So it’s good to see that at least in this circumstance, China, Russia and France wouldn’t let themselves be embarrassed. Iran’s harsh denunciation of the resolution shows that it is far from meaningless.
Yet reading the fine print of 1696 gives us reason to be skeptical. The resolution is structured so that Iran must “suspend” its uranium enrichment before any talks begin. But Iran previously suspended its uranium enrichment in November 2004 as a way of bidding up a European package of incentives, only to break off negotiations and resume enrichment when the mullahs deemed the offer too ungenerous.
Nothing now prevents Iran from running the same play again, thereby avoiding a diplomatic showdown as it negotiates the minute details of the “long-term comprehensive arrangement” that 1696 also offers Iran. Who knows how long that would take, especially since Russia has already said that 1696 includes no automatic move to sanctions? In the meantime, Iran can continue to work in secret on its undeclared nuclear programs.
With Iran, of course, you never know. And it also wouldn’t be surprising if the mullahs opted for a more confrontational approach. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already said he will ignore the August 31 deadline, adding darkly that countries that voted for 1696 would “learn the hard way” about the perils of standing up to his regime. On a trip to Malaysia this week, the wacky Iranian declared that troubles in the Middle East could all be solved if Israel ceased to exist. No one should doubt he’d help achieve that goal if he ever did get nuclear weapons.
The Iranians can read the papers, and they realize how reluctant France, Russia and China are to impose sanctions with any bite. In Beirut on Monday, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy met with his Iranian counterpart and praised Iran for playing “a stabilizing role in the region.” This was after Hezbollah staged a raid into Israel that has done great harm to the Lebanese government that France sees as one of its own special strategic projects.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a gamble when she persuaded President Bush to agree to direct talks with Iran if it suspended its nuclear enrichment. So far all the effort has earned from Tehran is disdain and a war in Lebanon. The U.N. resolution is the world’s first serious reply to that disdain, but whether it means anything will depend on Ms. Rice’s ability to convince the other powers to enforce it sooner rather than later.