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Persian Countdown Begins

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 27, 2003 10:44 pm    Post subject: Persian Countdown Begins Reply with quote

Persian Countdown Begins

September 27, 2003
The Ottawa Citizen
David Warren

U.S., West left with no stomach for brinkmanship

This was Sacred Defence Week in Iran. There was a big parade Monday in Tehran, to show off such hardware as the country's Shihab-3 intermediate range missile. It is a variant of North Korea's wonderfully named "No-Dong," and we got to see half a dozen of them. Among things we didn't see were the new, solid-fuel Fateh-110, first tested last year. The Iranians are now working on extending its range.

Among even less visible things, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency continues to find traces of enriched -- which is to say, "weapons grade" -- uranium, most recently at the Kalay-e Electric Co., just south of Tehran. Earlier this year, they found traces at the more remote site of Nantanz. It would be hard not to conclude from this that Iran now has an capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

The Iranian explanation of this is as rich as the uranium traces. They say their centrifuges were bought on the black market in the 1980s (apparently from Pakistan); that they've never actually tested the things themselves with nuclear material -- and so maybe somebody else did before them.

It is at this point that Canadians need reminding of the various official Iranian explanations of the death of Zahra Kazemi. The most recent line fed to our cherubic foreign minister (when he collared Iran's foreign minister at the UN) is that there will be some sort of trial of one of her Iranian interrogators, who now stands officially accused of what the laws of that land call "semi-intentional murder." Having previously heard everything from a candid admission that Ms. Kazemi was fully-intentionally murdered, to claims that she "unintentionally died," along with much bluster about how it was none of our business, I'm surprised we even ask for Iranian government explanations.

It is the same on nuclear weapons. One ayatollah (Khamenei) says Iran wouldn't dream of developing nuclear weapons; another (Rafsanjani) says the moment it has them it will nuke Israel. Moreover, the combination of aggressive bluster with the pose of baffled ingénue is endemic to the region. Only a country that allows full access to anything by international inspectors can be beyond suspicion.

This is the problem David Kay and his team of 1,400 weapons inspectors in Iraq is still dealing with. There is no possible doubt Iraq had illegal weapons at least until 1999, and plenty of documentary evidence has been discovered within the country's security archives referring to specific continuing programs. But other documentary evidence suggests Saddam was also trying to conceal, not the weapons but the fact he didn't really have anything especially lethal. The links between Saddam and international terror are becoming clearer, but even there we are still trying to penetrate the fog.

We know, however, what can come out of the fog. Examples were the attacks on New York City and Washington two years ago.

In the delightfully understated words of the chief of the Israeli defence staff, Moshe Ya'alon, referring back to Iran, "the combination of a non-conventional regime with non-conventional weapons is a concern."

According to several sources, Israel has a plan to make an Osirak-style first strike against Iran's nuclear weapons capacity. (I should think that would require a multiple strike.) We cannot doubt the Pentagon has its own scheme, if needed. The IAEA has given Iran until Oct. 31st to make the kind of complete and honest accounting of its illegal weapons program that Saddam Hussein was once asked to provide, and so we also have a countdown.

What we probably do not have any more is the political will to act.

Saddam Hussein's behaviour -- his track record with weapons of mass destruction in combination with his known ways of conducting business -- made dealing definitively with Iraq the strategic equivalent of a "no-brainer." But not even that could be done, except over the objections of a substantial part of even the democratically-elected world community. The ayatollahs of Iran are in the happier position of being openly courted by France, Germany, even Britain.

The Bush administration intends to pursue the matter through the Security Council, where it has even less prospect of inspiring decisive international action than it had over Iraq. And whereas Israel might suddenly act on her own, out of her own desire for physical survival, the Israelis have established a track record for empty threats. (The recent, quite serious one against Yasser Arafat seems to have been all but retracted.)

It is not strictly necessary to prevent Iran, or North Korea for that matter, from acquiring and deploying nuclear weapons, or stop them from continuing their trade in equipment and know-how with the world's terrorists, and other thug regimes. We could just wait and see what the consequences will be. The worst that could happen is the sudden loss of a few Western cities, followed, I'd assume, by an unrestricted conflagration along the lines of Armageddon.

But what's that against the danger of ruffling more feathers at the UN?

My sense is that neither the Bush administration nor any other has, after the international response before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, any stomach left for serious brinkmanship; and that U.S. domestic politics have also enquagmired President Bush. I am fairly certain that, at least, this is the Iranian (and the North Korean) view.

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