Tehran Is Buying Time

Iranian delay tactics continue. They make a pretense of cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They show them this or that document. They respond truthfully to this or that question and go back to their malevolent ways. They deny. They lie. They refuse to respond, or they claim that the material they are shown is fabricated. Thus Iran's evasive tactics have persisted for five years, all with the goal of playing for time. It seeks to deflect pressures and to please at least some governments, particularly Russia and China, considered the weak links in the international effort of the major powers, to expose the Iranian deceit and impose more sanctions.

The new IAEA report - 15 reports have already been written about Iran's nuclear project - like its predecessors, finds it hard to decide where Iran is headed; whether its nuclear plans are really for peaceful purposes as it claims, or in order to develop a nuclear weapon, as the United States, the European Union and Israel claim, and as at least some of the findings attest, in the present report as well.

To what end did Iran secretly purchase Pulonium 210, if not to manufacture a nuclear warhead? Why did Iran experiment with particularly high-powered explosives if not to test its capability in the chain reaction? Why did it purchase thousands of magnets abroad and not report them? Why was it found to possess blueprints for the manufacture of a nuclear warhead ? Why is Iran engaging in uranium enrichment, if not to have full control over the fuel cycle so as to manufacture highly enriched uranium itself? All this is in addition to many other discoveries made possible only by precise intelligence that anonymous intelligence agencies trubled to pass on to the IAEA so it could verify it with Iran.

Not every part of the report is so bleak, however. The inspectors also found that Iran is having trouble operating the centrifuges in the unranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. Israeli and U.S. officials are mad at IAEA chief Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, who time after time has been willing to fall into the Iranian trap. But the truth is that he has few options. The organization is a reflection of the international community. Its formulations - combining diplomatic and technical language - must satisfy the contrasting interests of the West, Russia and China, and the bloc of non-aligned countries, while being professionally faithful to what its inspectors discover.

The IAEA has no independent intelligence capabilities. It has no powers of coercion; the cooperation of IAEA members is voluntary. Thus, its reports read like intelligence reports, with their "on the one hand..." and "on the other hand..." They contain everything. Both soft censure of Iran as well as praise.

The anger should be directed at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with their veto powers. They are finding it difficult to reach consensus because of numerous conflicts of interest. Russia and China refuse to impose on Iran meaningful sanctions that might persuade its hard-line leadership into concluding that the benefits of working to acquire nuclear weapons are outweighed by economic losses. But that is not happening and it will not happen. Russia and China will continue to conduct a different and even adversarial foreign policy toward the U.S. and the EU. In any case, why should complaints be directed against Moscow and Beijing if U.S. intelligence, in its enormous stupidity two months ago, gave Iran a "character reference" when it determined that Iran had frozen its military nuclear plans in 2003.

In the absence of international concensus, Iran will continue to mock and play for time. Israel's intelligence assessment has not changed. Within one and a half to two years Iran will have a nuclear weapon, unless it is stopped. In other words, the new report contains little that is new. It only moves up the deadline by which the Israeli leadership must decide whether to attack Iran's nuclear sites.