Saturday, January 14, 2006


After claiming that it would not tolerate any more nations becoming nuclear states, the Bush Administration has found itself in a bit of a pickle. On Bush's watch, North Korea announced the development of nuclear weapons, and now Iran is apparently attempting to join the atomic community as well.

The problem is that the U.S. has lost much of its prestige, not to mention its credibility, with the rest of the world in the wake of the ill-planned, and some would say ill-advised, invasion of Iraq. Around the world the invasion is widely considered illegal, and the toppling of a sovereign government viewed as as yet another example of imperial hubris. The American presence in Iraq is seen by many, including a majority of Iraqis, as nothing more than an occupation by a bullying superpower. In essence, the U.S. has developed quite a PR problem with much of the rest of the world.

If the U.S. was looking for a foothold in the Middle East, a place to launch a democracy in lieu of a totalitarian government known to have sponsored terrorism for years, and admittedly developing an ambitious nuclear program, then the Bush Administration might have picked the wrong country. Perhaps Iran would have been a better choice.

Seventy percent of Iran’s population is under 30, and the median age of an Iranian is just 24. Young people in Iran are fairly pro-Western and are fascinated by its culture. They are known to favor more freedom of all kinds, having repeatedly clashed with their authoritarian, ultra-conservative Islamic government in recent years. And, for the most part, they are ethnically and religiously united. They seem like exactly the kind of people who would favor a chance at democracy and a government of, and for, the people.

But the current Iranian government has continued to frustrate the West. On Tuesday, Iran removed some U.N. seals from its main uranium enrichment facility to resume research on nuclear fuel -- including some small-scale enrichment. And now Iran has threatened to end surprise inspections and to stop cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog if it is referred to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program.

Britain, France and Germany have spent the past 2 1/2 years futilely negotiating with Tehran over its nuclear program. The three European nations, in conjunction with the U.S., may refer Iran to the Security Council due to its intransigence. They could call for economic sanctions, such as restricting oil and gas sales, but such action would have a negative impact on the world economy.

For that reason, they face resistance from China, which imports 300,000 barrels of oil a day from Iran and holds veto powers at the Security Council. China said it opposes putting Tehran before the world body for possible sanctions. Other nations may feel similarly for the same reasons. Japan imports more than half a million barrels of oil a day from Iran. Russia, another Security Council member with economic ties to Iran, has given mixed signals on how it would react to such a move.

While Iran insists its program is peaceful, intended only to produce electricity, much of the West is skeptical. An OPEC member's claim that it needs nuclear energy is laughable given that Iran controls 10 percent of the world's oil reserves and has the second largest gas reserves, after Russia. Yet, Iran insists it has the right to conduct uranium enrichment, a process that can produce reactor fuel or material for a nuclear bomb.

And with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, Iran seems to believe that it can get away with continuing its program. They've seen the Bush Administration talk tough with North Korea regarding it nuclear program, but do nothing about it. They may be further emboldened because the U.S. is currently grappling with a nearly three-year-old war in Iraq. The Iranians may be betting that the U.S. is unwilling, or unable, to simultaneously engage in another conflict.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany all fear that Iran aims to develop nuclear weapons. And they have good reason to be concerned.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would not bend before the threat of sanctions.

''Iran is not frightened by threats from any country and it will continue the path of production of the nuclear energy,'' state-run radio quoted him as saying. ''Iranian people do not allow foreigners to block their progress.''

The ultra-conservative President has made a series of outrageous statements in recent months that have provided perfect examples of why many nations are deeply concerned about the possibility of Iran going nuclear.

In October, Ahmadinejad quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution, saying that Israel "must be wiped out from the map of the world."

He insisted that a new series of attacks will destroy the Jewish state, and lashed out at Muslim countries and leaders that acknowledge Israel. "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," he boldly proclaimed.

Ahmadinejad said the "new wave of confrontations generated in Palestine, and the growing turmoil in the Islamic world, would in no time wipe Israel away."

The president concluded by saying: "And God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

Most recently, in December, he described the Holocaust as "a myth" and suggested that Israel be moved to Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, responded by saying: "The combination of a regime with a radical agenda, together with a distorted sense of reality that is clearly indicated by the statements we heard today, put together with nuclear weapons -- I think that's a dangerous combination that no one in the international community can accept."

The international community doesn't seem to want to accept it, but they may not be willing to anything substantive about it. Iran's regional neighbor Israel, on the other hand, would find its security jeopardized if Iran came into possession of nuclear weapons. According to media reports, before his recent stroke, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israel's military to be prepared for possible air strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran as soon as March.

While on the Fox News Channel last year, Sharon warned, "Israel — and not only Israel — cannot accept a nuclear Iran. We have the ability to deal with this and we're making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation."

Right now some European nations appear reluctant to even refer Iran to the Security Council, much less threaten them with military consequences for their actions. They seem to be as concerned with escalating the current war of words as with the advancing nuclear program in a country that has an unpredictable firebrand for a president. Ahmadinejad has the backing of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Council of Guardians, the ultra-conservative religious leaders with the ultimate authority in the country.

So it may fall to Israel to do something about the potential Iranian nuclear menace. In the wake of Iraq, the U.S. might find too politically risky to move unilaterally against Iran with a military strike. Israel, on the other hand, has never been politically popular and seems to have given up trying to curry favor with the rest of the world. Their number one concern, for good reason, is their own national security. And with a nuclear Iran, that security would indeed be threatened.

Copyright © 2005 The Independent Report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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