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Saturday, August 14, 2004

New York Times > Indispensable Allies on Iran

August 14, 2004
Iraq provides a textbook lesson for a superpower about the dangers of going it alone in the world, but the Bush administration seems to suffer from attention deficit disorder. Some of its more hawkish officials are now pressing to confront Iran over its nuclear weapons development, regardless of whether America's main allies are convinced that diplomacy and inspections have been exhausted. Nobody in Washington proposes invading Iran, but administration officials hint darkly about starting an effort to destabilize Tehran's clerical dictatorship. Iran's ruling mullahs are justifiably unpopular. But unilateral American bullying is one sure way to rally flagging support for them among nationalistic Iranians.
Stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons could eventually require strong, concerted international action. This is no time for Washington to strike out ahead of the allies whose active cooperation may well be needed in the months ahead.
Unlike Iraq's long-dormant nuclear weapons program, Iran's program seems to be moving steadily forward, and it has drawn sharp criticism from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran has defiantly proclaimed its intention to produce enriched uranium, which can be used in bombs as well as electrical-power reactors. Late last month it resumed building the centrifuges needed for such enrichment, ending a construction freeze it had agreed to earlier this year with Britain, France and Germany. Though Iran seems to be staying just within the limits of what is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is positioning itself so it could withdraw from the treaty and make bombs once it has completed building the new equipment and has amassed enough natural uranium to begin enrichment.
The three European allies, while harboring few illusions about Iran's intentions, believe that tough-minded negotiations still have a chance of producing positive results. Until they conclude otherwise, they are unlikely to support any American request to impose coercive sanctions. European officials are awaiting the results of an I.A.E.A. analysis of traces of enriched uranium found on centrifuge parts in Iran. That analysis should resolve, among other things, whether the parts were contaminated elsewhere, before Iran got them, or whether Iran has already begun a covert uranium-enrichment program in violation of its treaty commitments. The agency will announce its findings next month.
Continuing uncertainty over issues like this argue for giving Europe's diplomacy some more time, but not much. Neither Europe nor America can afford to wake up one day to discover that Iran is quitting the nonproliferation treaty and building weapons. If diplomacy fails, tough Security Council action will be required to head off such a move by Iran, and Washington will need the full support of its key allies then. It should be fully supporting their diplomatic efforts now.

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