Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Here We Go Again

Iran is a real threat. Only an out-of-touch peacenik would deny it. Their President Ahmandinejad has again and again argued that Israel must be wiped off the map, and coincidentally so should the U.S. Iran has ignored El Baradei's IAEA to a degree that makes Saddam Hussein look, in retrospect, like a team player. Iran has sheltered Al-Qaeda and long aided groups like Hezbollah, such that if anyone doesn't believe nuclear weapons would find their way to these terrorist groups they're deluding themselves. So why am I not happy that all the major Security Council powers have agreed that something must be done and that the country must be sent before an emergency meeting of the IAEA?

Putin also cautioned against what he called any rash moves in dealing with Iran, a close economic partner of Russia and China. "The Iranian nuclear problem requires a very accurate approach without rash or erroneous moves," Putin said. "Russia will continue to cooperate with European and U.S. colleagues in promoting a solution to the issue. Russia, Germany, our European partners and the United States -- we all have very similar approaches to the Iranian problem."

Iran's ambassador to Russia praised Putin's proposal on Russian television, according to the Associated Press. "As far as Russia's proposal is concerned, we consider it constructive and are carefully studying it. This is a good initiative to resolve the situation. We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly," Gholamreza Ansari said.

U.S. and European officials said the scheduling of the Feb. 2 IAEA meeting would give Iran time to suspend its enrichment-related work and seriously reexamine the Russian offer. U.S. officials also said they hoped the outcome of the London meeting would be seen as a clear message both to Iran and to other members of the IAEA board that the five permanent members of the Security Council -- China, Russia, France, Britain and the United States -- were united on some basic aspects of the Iran case.

Note that the U.S. is also trying to get the IAEA meeting pushed slightly ahead of the SOTU speech (K. Drum is right again). The Russian proposal calls for Putin's people doing the uranium enrichment for Iran, and passing it along. However, that's unlikely to completely prevent the creation of nukes as once the uranium has been enriched it can still be used to make a bomb. Russia's proposal does nothing but add a few steps to the Iranian's bomb-making ambitions, and as Iran has already resumed enrichment it's unlikely they will do anything but ponder Russia's proposal to buy more time. The fact that Putin signals that the process should be "slow" is most disturbing of all, meaning Russia will likely stop any attempt to bring the action before the Security Council. So, all we get in the end is El Baradei writing angry letters when, in El Baradei's own words, Iran is months from a nuke. In any case, Iran has remained steadfast that they won't cave in to any kind of pressure.

But beyond all the difficulties with Russia's stalling and Iran's enrichment in getting collective action on this horrible threat is a not-too-suprising foe: Kofi Annan.

Annan worked furiously to undo European and American efforts to bring Iran before the Security Council. Reminiscent of his 1998 comment after visiting Saddam Hussein, "I think I can do business with him," Annan told reporters on Thursday: "I had a 40-minute conversation with Mr. [Ali] Larijani, the Iranian negotiator of the nuclear issue. ...He in turn affirmed to me that they are interested in serious and constructive negotiations..." He later explained, "the negotiations relate to the EU3," Britain, France, and Germany.

Trouble is, that a few hours earlier the EU3 had issued a statement saying "we have decided to inform the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors that our discussions with Iran have reached an impasse." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also told reporters: "The United States fully supports the decision announced today by the [E3-EU]...the basis for negotiation is no longer there, because what the Iranians did was to unilaterally destroy the basis on which the negotiations were taking place..."

Following the secretary-general's news conference, rumor has it that France's U.N. ambassador complained to Annan directly, but Annan was said to be livid — not at Iran — but at the criticism.

As far as obstructionists and oppression-lovers are concerned, you can't get much better than Kofi Annan. I say all this because we can expect that Iran will likely get the Iraq treatment, or worse, at the UN. And that is a sad thing, not only because everything that was alleged about Iraq is demonstrably true about Iran, but because very soon once nukes are in play the options on the table grow more scarce and more dangerous.