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June 28, 2004

Atomic Ayatollahs

By

Iran ratcheted up international nuclear tensions late last week by announcing it would resume (as soon as tomorrow) building nuclear centrifuges - an essential element in nuclear-weapons development.

The rest of the world keeps protesting - and Tehran keeps thumbing its nose right back.

Iran insists its "civilian" nuclear power program is for "peaceful" purposes only. That's laughable - but the consequences aren't.

If other countries don't take decisive action soon, the world will have the 9th nuclear weapons state - and its first nuclear-armed state that also sponsors terrorism - faster than you can say "atomic ayatollah."

Efforts to stop Tehran's atomic quest have been lackluster so far. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) latest rebuke, for example, didn't even stop the mullahs from making last week's in-your-face announcement. The European Union's "peace in our time" agreement with Iran last October on nuclear transparency and inspections has become a tragic joke.

Even Iran's old pals, Russia and China, don't buy Tehran's line anymore. Iran's nuclear mendacity and obfuscation has become so obvious - and embarrassing - that Beijing and Moscow deserted the Islamic republic and supported the critical IAEA resolution. (Although China has been accused recently of secretly aiding the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for oil . . .)

The confrontation between the IAEA and Iran has dragged on for two years now. And time is on Iran's side: Each day, it moves one step closer to achieving its nuclear ambition.

As the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA said, "The passage of time is not a neutral factor in proliferation cases." Iran may become a nuclear power in the next 18 months.

Supporting Iranian nuclear efforts are:

* A heavy-water reactor at Arak, which will produce large amounts of plutonium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

* A nuclear-conversion facility at Isfahan to produce uranium hexafluoride, a basic ingredient for developing nukes.

Iran insists that these facilities are for producing nuclear fuel for its civilian energy sector, which will free oil and gas reserves for export.

But as John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, testified on Capitol Hill last week, "The costly infrastructure to perform all of these activities goes well beyond any conceivable peaceful nuclear program."

Plus, Iran, with the world's second-largest natural-gas reserves, wastes enough gas each year to generate four 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors' worth of electricity.

Bottom line: Iran doesn't need nuclear power.

Will the international community abandon its so-far-impotent ways? It's time for the U.N. Security Council to insist on broad, multilateral economic sanctions.

Tough sanctions made Libya knuckle under on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), may have crippled Saddam Hussein's WMD programs and, last week, led even North Korea back to the nuclear negotiating table.

But getting sanctions in place won't be easy. Countries such as France, Germany and Japan have invested heavily in Iran's centralized economy.

For instance, the French energy giant, Total Group, recently signed a $2 billion joint venture with the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company for natural-gas exploration. Germany's business presence in Iran exceeds France's, and the European Union is looking at a bilateral trade agreement with Iran as well. Japan? It recently signed a $2 billion deal for oil exploration in Iran. (Iran has the world's third largest deposits of oil.)

And China's insatiable energy appetite likely will prevent it from supporting Security Council sanctions.

If the international community lets Iran go nuclear, the U.N.'s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would become a laughingstock, and no longer serve as a deterrent to nuclear proliferation. (Over the weekend, Tehran hinted, via a regime-friendly newspaper, at withdrawing from the NPT.)

A nuclear Iran would undermine stability in region, threatening the new Iraqi and Afghan governments and giving Syria and the Saudis strong incentive to go nuclear, too.

And Iran has long-range missiles on the drawing table - so NATO, Israel and the United States will become at risk.

It seems obvious: The Iranians aren't interested in negotiations - they're interested in having the bomb.

We've tried to counter Iran's nuclear intentions through mommy-coddling diplomatic means for long enough: That approach has failed miserably.

It's time we all recognize this fact and agree to take the matter to the Security Council for more drastic action.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

First appeared in the New York Post

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