Thursday, November 24, 2005

NRO:The sorry state of world Iran policy

Ilan Berman, National Review Online - Another month, another diplomatic reprieve for the Islamic Republic of Iran. On Thursday, the board of governors of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will meet for what many had hoped would be a decisive step toward curbing Iran's runaway nuclear ambitions. But already, all the signs suggest that the summit is shaping up to be anything but.

...Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei has reportedly urged member states to give Iran "one last chance" to cooperate with the international community, throwing his weight behind a new proposal to Iran to conduct uranium enrichment in Russia. And now, there are signs that the United States and Europe are doing just that, backing away from plans to push for immediate Security Council referral at the board meeting Thursday in order to give the Russian government time to persuade its long-time strategic partner to accept the new enrichment deal.

This diplomatic dance provides a revealing glimpse into the sorry state of international policy toward Iran. Since mid-2003, Europe has been engaged in a series of halting, haphazard talks with Tehran over its nuclear program. This dialogue, aimed at securing a lasting Iranian freeze on uranium enrichment, is long on diplomatic and economic carrots but alarmingly devoid of strategic sticks. Yet over time, it has become the principal international vehicle for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Even Washington, for lack of a better strategy, has signed on to this approach, endorsing Europe's deeply deficient nuclear diplomacy as the best method to defuse the Iranian threat.

The outcome is deeply disturbing. After all, the reasons for concern over a nuclear Iran have little if anything to do with Iran's nuclear program itself. Rather, they stem from the nature of the regime that will ultimately wield those capabilities. It is the current Iranian regime's intimate relationship with international terrorism, and its potential for catastrophic proliferation, that will make a nuclear Islamic republic a truly global threat.

Unfortunately, for both the United States and Europe, diplomatic negotiations have become a substitute for serious strategy. To be sure, diplomacy can certainly help to deter and contain Iran's nuclear drive. But ultimately, if European and American policymakers are serious about neutralizing the dangers posed by an atomic Islamic Republic, they must also focus their energies upon spurring a fundamental transformation of that regime.

The means to do so exist. All that has been lacking so far has been the political will.

Ilan Berman is vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C. and author of Tehran Rising.