Saturday, December 29, 2007
Fuel for Bushehr
December 27, 2007
President Bush is not eager to pick another fight with the Russians. So he did the diplomatic thing last week and said that it is good that Russia finally delivered fuel for Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power reactor at Bushehr. Don’t believe it.
While the risk that Tehran might divert the low-enriched uranium for weapons use is relatively small, the political significance of the shipment is not. It is the latest reminder that the Bush administration’s Iran policy is not working and that Washington and the other major powers are going to have to be a lot more creative and a lot more tough-minded if there is any hope of restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Moscow — which would like to sell more nuclear reactors to Iran — clearly decided that all the restraints are off now that the United States intelligence community has reported that Tehran halted its secret nuclear weapons program in 2003. This week, Tehran announced that Russia would also sell it a powerful new air defense system.
There are several problems with Moscow’s new anything goes attitude: Iran hid its nuclear efforts for years, still isn’t cooperating with international inspectors and is defying a Security Council order to halt making its own fuel — the hardest part of building a weapon.
By delivering nuclear fuel to Bushehr, Russia has squandered important leverage and sent a loud and clear message to Tehran that it can continue to defy the Security Council and continue with its nuclear program. The United States and its allies now need to redouble their efforts to persuade Russia to withhold remaining fuel shipments as part of a new package of intensified pressures.
Russia isn’t the only country interested in pursuing more — not less — trade with Iran. And we fear it isn’t the only one that will see the new intelligence estimate as a green light to give in to that temptation.
The Bush administration should remind everyone who will listen about the dangers posed by an Iran that even knows how to build a nuclear weapon. But it will have a lot more credibility if it backs that up with a serious offer of comprehensive talks and real rewards if Iran is willing to give up its fuel program and cooperate with international inspectors. That may not change Iran’s behavior. It may be the only way to stop the rest of the world from following Russia’s path to Tehran’s door.