Two stories published today reveal what may be the first scene of the last Act of a life-threatening drama. As long ago as 1994 concerns over the true purpose of Iran’s nuclear program set in motion diplomatic attempts to limit the scope of Iran’s program to peaceful and civilian use. Putting aside the question of need given Iran’s status as the holder of the world’s third largest reserve oil, the international community, as represented first and foremost by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), focused its efforts on monitoring Iran’s efforts. Following thereafter is a tale of deception and delay that allowed Iran to enrich uranium to military grade levels (approximately eight times more powerful than necessary for civilian use) and possibly in enough quantity for nuclear weapons.
The brutal irony for countries with large economic stakes in Iran such as Germany, Russia and particularly China is that their recalcitrance in allowing serious sanctions sufficient to pressure Iran to cease its non-civilian nuclear program promotes a greater likelihood of military intervention. Anyone observing this week’s UN’s opening session can see the fruits of the international community’s failed effort to prevent the world’s largest exporter of terror from achieving its nuclear ambitions.
The two news items that mark what might be the beginning of the end game concern the disclosure of a second uranium enrichment facility and the announcement that President Hugo Chavez’s government is helping Iran detect reserves of uranium in Venezuela. First, consideration of secret facilities always disrupted any calculus designed to ascertain the nature and depth of Iran’s nuclear program. Now, irrespective of the level of awareness by various intelligence agencies of the secret facility, plausible deniability of Iran’s military intentions crumbles with this public announcement.
Second, Venezuela’s uranium mining assistance in exchange for Iranian help with its own nuclear program ends any debate as to the benign nature of the Chavez and Ahmadinejad relationship. This alliance of oil-rich, anti-American, terror-supporting regimes enhances the stakes in the Middle East and creates an entirely new threat level in Central and South America.
This week’s announcements and speeches reveal that the world can no longer deny Iran’s military nuclear ambition and its desire to ally with other rogue regimes for nefarious purposes. What happens from here, though, is anybody’s guess. Russia’s apparent change of heart on sanctions makes for a positive start. However, China, with its $30 billion Persian investments, must follow suit. The big three, US, France and UK, gave Iran two months to comply with disclosure requirements and access before seeking serious sanctions. How much more time does Iran require, if any? And what happens if Iran continues its pattern of partial compliance? Will sufficient sanctions still be demanded?
Iran understands better than any other player that time is on its side. Those countries intent on preventing a nuclear armed Iran must not only understand the narrow time frame, but act urgently within it.