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Iran's Nuclear Mullahs By: Mortimer B. Zuckerman
U.S. News and World Report | Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Here's just one fact about Iran that justifies its designation by the State Department as the most active state sponsor of terrorism. Every year, Tehran holds a festival of terrorist groups from around the world to facilitate their making contacts and coordinating tactics and strategies. This isn't the only reason President Bush included Iran in the axis of evil, however. Iran has opposed every U.S.-backed peace initiative in the Middle East and has made a foreign policy of anti-Americanism ever since its seizure of American hostages from our embassy there in 1979. It has also founded or fostered some of the world's most heinous terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas. To this day, it continues to offer safe haven to key al Qaeda operatives. As if all that weren't enough, Iran has been implicated in the bomb attacks on U.S. service personnel at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and, more recently, in the attacks on an American compound in Riyadh. Now, unsurprisingly, terrorists backed by Iran are making mischief in neighboring Iraq.

But that's not all. Thanks to an Iranian opposition group, we have learned that Iran, in breach of all its international agreements, has developed a nuclear-weapons facility disguised as a watch factory. Not only has it built centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium, but inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered actual traces of highly enriched uranium--something not required for power stations but awfully useful for bomb making. Iran's excuse was that this was the fault of the country that sold it the equipment. Who was that? Iran is unable to identify the source.

Lies. The list of grievances, improbably, continues. Iran is completing another uranium-conversion plant. It has acknowledged that it received 1.8 tons of natural uranium from China in 1991, much of which remains unaccounted for. And it is going ahead with development of its nuclear facility at Bushehr, which will be able to separate the plutonium essential for fissile materials.

It's one thing to work on building a nuclear device, another to deliver it on a target, and in this regard, Iran's capabilities are worrisome. Iran's new Shehab-3 missile has a range of over 800 miles and could reach anywhere in the Middle East and most of Europe.

The pretense that Iran is engaged in a peaceful nuclear energy program is preposterous. Why would a country that sits atop one of the world's largest reserves of oil and natural gas spend billions of dollars to build nuclear power plants when they are so cost ineffective? Why would it go to such lengths to make nuclear fuel it could buy elsewhere, except to use for military purposes? Why all the lies?

Washington has looked to the IAEA to condemn Iran and trigger a UN Security Council resolution of condemnation and sanctions. To circumvent this, Iran did its deal with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany, whereby it signed up for a tougher inspection program and agreed to "suspend" the enrichment of uranium. The agreement was headlined as a major advance, but that's way premature. It is full of holes, for one thing. And it appears to impose no schedules or deadlines, as the chief of Iran's national security council glibly admitted. "We voluntarily chose to do it," Hassan Rowhani gloated, "which means it could last for one day or one year--it depends on us."

The agreement suggests that work on the Bushehr plant can continue--a plant that could be operational by 2005. A year after that, Tehran could begin stripping out weapons-grade plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel and start building bombs. As for the agreement's "additional protocol" requiring the supposedly tougher inspections, even if the mullahs were committed to signing it--a real question--it would take several years to implement. That would allow Iran plenty of time to continue its dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the world.

The only way to assess the value of this new agreement is to test it. Here's how: First, Iran must hand over to the UN's nuclear watchdog agency a complete, nondoctored account of all of its nuclear activities over the past several years. Second, it must adhere to a tight schedule on the important but imprecise promises it has made in the accord. Third, it must be held to a precise definition of every obligation it has undertaken. Last, inspection and monitoring must be unconditional and implemented quickly.

If these steps are not taken, America will face the same situation in Iran we face now with North Korea. It agreed to suspend all its nuclear activities, then promptly began concealing its work building bombs.

It's bad enough to make a big mistake once. We don't have to follow it with an encore.

Mortimer Zuckerman is the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report.

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