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June 9, 2006
An Answer From Iran

Iran answered the West regarding the offer of a set of incentives, including more modern nuclear-power generation, for a cessation of uranium enrichment by the Iranian government. The IAEA reported late yesterday that Iran restarted its uranium enrichment on the day it received the offer despite public knowledge of the preconditions for talks:

Iran restarted important nuclear activities on the same day this week that six world powers offered it incentives aimed at encouraging the complete suspension of the nuclear work, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Iran restarted the pouring of a raw form of uranium into a set of 164 centrifuge machines to produce enriched uranium, said the I.A.E.A., the nuclear monitoring agency based in Vienna.

That same day, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, was in Tehran, where he presented Iranian leaders with an international package of incentives to help resolve the crisis caused by the country's nuclear program.

There was no explanation for Iran's decision. But it seemed to underscore its often stated determination not to be bullied into accepting any deal requiring it to end activities related to uranium enrichment.

When Iran stopped pouring uranium into their centrifuge cascade last month without explanation, observers thought that Iran either had a technical problem with their enrichment system or that it wanted to gauge the reaction from Europe and the US. Whatever the motivation, the suspension has ended, and the Iranians continue to develop nuclear fuel in defiance of the UN order to obey the IAEA and stop. That does not bode well for any future agreements of the nature offered by the US and EU.

Nor was that the only revelation from the IAEA report yesterday. Iran still has not resolved open questions about the nature of their enrichment system and its origins, an important point for the IAEA as it tries to shut the door on proliferation. It also confirmed the presence of highly-enriched uranium on Iranian equipment, as noted in the past few weeks, but again could not determine if that material came with imported equipment or if the Iranians produced it. Teheran did not answer that question either.

Under those circumstances, EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana unwittingly sounded more like Neville Chamberlain as he commented on the delivery of the incentive package prior to seeing the IAEA report:

Mr. Solana, apparently unaware of the critical I.A.E.A. report, was upbeat in remarks to reporters in Paris on Thursday. "I am more optimistic than pessimistic," he said after emerging from a meeting about the Iran crisis with President Jacques Chirac of France. Calling the incentives package "a pretty, beautiful package," he said it provided a way for the Iranians to extricate themselves from the crisis over their nuclear program.

"What is needed is to work with them with respect," Mr. Solana said, adding that the countries that made the offer had "the intention to work with them in the most constructive fashion possible."

It's hard to respect someone who lies and cheats on a constant basis, and in fact respect seems to be coming to Iran far ahead of schedule. If this incentive package works at all, it will be due to a healthy amount of disrespect as we insist on invasive verification procedures to ensure Iran doesn't continue cheating. Ronald Reagan once said, "Trust but verify," but he dealt with a rational enemy with a strong will to continue living. The messianic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has proven himself at least a non-rational leader, and his fiery rhetoric and fervent public belief in the apocalyptic return of the Twelfth Imam makes the "trust" part of Reagan's Maxim a poor choice under any circumstances.

Ahmadinejad hasn't quite tipped his hand publicly, but this new enrichment effort appears designed to force the West into further concessions. The West needs to make clear that the cessation of uranium enrichment is a firm prerequisite for any discussions, and that once that happens all issues are on the table. If Iran continues to enrich uranium, the West needs to consider that a rejection and a defiance of the UN Security Council resolution. Bush can go no further that he already has in bending diplomatically for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 9, 2006 5:20 AM

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