April 17, 2010

Does anyone really take Iran's claims seriously?

Not to be outdone by the recent U.S.-hosted nuclear summit, Iran convened its own disarmament forum in Tehran last week. Not surprisingly, most of the rhetoric emanating from Tehran was directed at the United States - Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei went so far as to brand America as an "atomic criminal."

Does anyone really take these guys seriously?

Well, they should. No, not the meaningless drivel that spews from the mouths of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Supreme Leader, but their actions. The Iranians, despite their claims to the contrary, are intent on developing a nuclear weapons capability. That means not just a nuclear weapon, be it a warhead, bomb or other explosive device, but also the means to deliver it. While they are feverishly enriching uranium to develop the fissile material that is essential to a nuclear weapon, they are also deeply involved in the research and development, or the acquisition from foreign suppliers, of ballistic missile systems. They can already strike anywhere in the Middle East - including American military facilities and the nation of Israel - and will soon have the capability to place much of Europe at risk.

The hard part, the critical part, of this effort is the development of the fissile material - in the case of the Iranians it appears to be highly enriched uranium. Once they have the fissile material - and they do not appear to be too far from that goal - the rest of the process is markedly easier. Much of the know-how and technology is readily available, and I would assess that the Iranians already have it.

Iran seems to possess all the elements of a successful nuclear weapons program - the qualified engineers and technicians, almost unlimited resources from high oil prices, and most importantly, the political will to make it happen despite the hand-wringing and ineffective objections of the rest of the world. Add to that Tehran's rather successful foreign policy initiatives over the last few years. Despite an overwhelming outcry from the nations of the world, the United Nations has not been able to impose effective sanctions, mainly because the Iranians have been able to convince the Chinese and Russians to ensure international efforts against the country are too weak to slow them down.

Although President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have you believe that Russia and China are going to support "crippling" sanctions against Iran, China has only agreed to attend a meeting on the subject and Russia is still providing weapons, and will initiate operations at the Russian-provided Bushehr nuclear reactor in the near future. The President wanted sanctions to start "in weeks, not months" - that is just not going to happen.

While the Americans and their European allies are floundering in any actions against Tehran, the Iranians have successfully lobbied the Turks and Brazilians to vocally oppose sanctions as well. Add that to Chinese and Russian reticence over meaningful action against Iran, and it's hard to see how this impasse will resolve itself peacefully. At some point, the United States is going to have to get off the fence and decide whether it will allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or not.

Tehran seems to have outmaneuvered the West again. We better take them seriously.