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August 26, 2006

Iran has unveiled its surprise and its answer to the Western package of incentives. A heavy-water plant opened in Khondab with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself performing the honors:

An Iranian plant that produces heavy water officially went into operation on Saturday, despite U.N. demands that Tehran stop the activity because it can be used to develop a nuclear bomb.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the plant, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.

The announcement comes days before Thursday's U.N. deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment — which also can be used to create nuclear weapons — or face economic and political sanctions. Tehran has called the U.N. Security Council resolution "illegal" and said it won't stop enrichment as a precondition to negotiations.

The Germans tried using heavy water for its own atomic-weapons program during World War II, and for a solid technical reason: it eliminates the need for uranium enrichment to fuel reactors, which can then yield weapons-grade fissile material. It seems as though the Iranians want to cover all their bases in creating the fuel for nuclear weapons; they continue to pursue enrichment in parallel.

Ahmadinejad's construction of the heavy-water plant puts a stake in the heart of the argument that Iran only wants peaceful nuclear energy. Their multiple-tracked efforts to achieve plutonium production shows quite clearly that they have spent more effort than necessary to get simple civil nuclear power production. The incentive package offered by the West would have given it to them in any case.

Predictably, however, Iran's allies on the Security Council will run interference for Teheran once again:

Russia’s defense minister said Friday that it was premature to consider punitive actions against Iran despite its refusal so far to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium as the United Nations Security Council has demanded.

Although Russia agreed to the Security Council’s resolution on July 31, Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov’s remarks made it clear that Russia would not support taking the next step that the United States and Britain have called for: imposing sanctions against Iran or its leaders over its nuclear programs. The Council set Aug. 31 as the deadline for Iran to respond to its demand.

Russia has repeatedly expressed opposition to punitive steps, even as President Vladimir V. Putin and others have called on Iran to cooperate with international inspectors and suspend its enrichment activity.

But on Friday Mr. Ivanov went further, saying the issue was not “so urgent” that the Security Council should consider sanctions and expressing doubt that they would work in any case.

Ivanov may have a point about the efficacy of sanctions, but simply throwing up one's hands didn't solve anything either. That was the Russian position on Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein as well, and in the latter case, Russia made itself one of the chief reasons that sanctions failed. Between Russia, France, and Germany, Saddam made a personal fortune off of the UN sanctions, further entrenching his power in Iraq while killing off Iraqis who found no favor with the regime. Russia appears to be strongly signaling that they will once again play an undermining role with Iran.

That leaves the US with few options short of war to stop the Iranian nuke. The Bush administration wants to still try to apply international sanctions, and may attempt a coalition of nations to join:

With increasing signs that several fellow Security Council members may stall a United States push to penalize Iran for its nuclear enrichment program, Bush administration officials have indicated that they are prepared to form an independent coalition to freeze Iranian assets and restrict trade.

The strategy, analysts say, reflects not only long-standing U.S. frustration with the Security Council's inaction on Iran, but also the current weakness of Washington's position because of its controversial role in a series of conflicts in the Middle East, most recently in Lebanon. ...

Under U.S. terrorism laws, Washington could ramp up its own sanctions, including financial constraints on Tehran and interception of missile and nuclear materials en route to Iran, Bolton said, and the U.S. is encouraging other countries to follow suit. "You don't need Security Council authority to impose sanctions, just as we have," he said.

The U.S. has had broad restrictions on almost all trade with Iran since 1987. Exceptions include the import of dried fruits and nuts, caviar and carpets. In addition, U.S. companies can obtain licenses to do limited trade in agriculture and medicine. The United States also initiated the Proliferation Security Initiative, involving a coalition of countries that have agreed to intercept shipments of materials to Iran that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

"We will continue to enhance PSI to cut off flows of materials and technology that are useful to Iran's ballistic missile program and nuclear programs," Bolton said. "We will be constraining financial transactions under existing terrorism laws."

This does not hold out much hope of success. For sanctions to work, they must have near-universal acceptance and application. If a sanctioned nation has trading partners who can deliver the needed imports, they will simply trade more exclusively with those nations, although they may pay more for the goods. Russia and China can use Iranian money to broker those imports Iran deems critical. Nations could freeze Iranian assets abroad, but Iran will likely start liquidating those in the next few weeks, if they haven't already.

France also signaled that they have doubts about getting to that level of confrontation with Iran. Foreign Minister Phillipe Douste-Blazy, who recently referred to Iran as a "stabilizing force" in the Middle East, says that France is "almost alone" in attempting to avoid a conflict of civilizations. He claims that a confrontation between Iran and the West would be the "worst thing". Apparently, an Iranian nuke pales in significance to having to face Iran down before they develop one.

We need to recognize that few Western nations have the stomach to oppose Ahmadinejad and the mullahcracy. The UN will not act; Russia and China have made that impossible, and in any case, we have seem what the UN does with sanctions regimes. We need to gather as many nations together who understand the nature of Iran and the threat a nuclear-armed mullahcracy presents, and act to stop it. That doesn't necessarily mean war, but it does mean putting massive resources into whatever means we have to undermine the mullahcracy from within. Otherwise, if we continue to dither, war will be the only choice left open to us, and at some point, Iran will take that choice away from us as well.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 26, 2006 9:17 AM

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» Iran takes next nuclear production step from Morning Coffee
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and the new heavy-water production plant he inaugurated Saturday would serve medical, agricultural and scientific nee... [Read More]

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» Iran Nuclear Watch: Iran Launches a New Phase in the Arak Heavy-Water Reactor Project from FullosseousFlap's Dental Blog
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) inaugurates the Arak heavy-water project 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran August 26, 2006. Iran’s president launched a new phase in the Arak heavy-water reactor project on Saturday, despite Western... [Read More]

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» Is This Iran's Big Surprise? from A Blog For All
Israel knows what this means, as Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the annihilation of the state of Israel. Obtaining nuclear weapons would speed that goal considerably. The process by which Iran seeks to obtain nuclear weapons is a dual use syst... [Read More]

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» And A Nice Surprise It Is from Liberty and Justice
What the West needs is to unite. The UN has proven its own ineffectiveness time and time again. Western countries that agree that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon should unite and work with eachother to stop Iran from doing so, if necessary with an... [Read More]

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