The Tehran File

Monday, August 24, 2009

SEPTEMBER WILL be a crucial month for the Obama administration's efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program. President Obama has said that Iran must respond to his offer of direct talks or risk tougher economic sanctions. Having crushed protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's probably fraudulent reelection, the Tehran regime has allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit a nearly completed heavy water reactor, and has granted greater access to a uranium enrichment site. But these are token gestures, aimed at giving China and Russia reasons to resist possible American and European pressure for sanctions, as well as a sop to the IAEA itself, which has little to show for its indulgent approach to Iran under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.

Indeed, Mr. ElBaradei faces his own moment of truth next month. The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors will convene in Vienna for four days starting Sept. 7 and again Sept. 22. Mr. ElBaradei will be closely questioned about a document in his possession that, according to recent media accounts, summarizes everything his agency knows about Iran. The picture -- which reportedly includes development of nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them -- is not benign. Mr. ElBaradei has had this information since September 2008 but has resisted calls by the United States and its allies to circulate the report among the IAEA board.

This is consistent with Mr. ElBaradei's overall performance for the past 12 years, during which he went beyond his technical role to denounce "crazies" in the Bush administration who, he said, were hell-bent on bombing Iran. Meanwhile, Mr. ElBaradei has shown extraordinary patience in the face of Iranian stonewalling. Just two months ago, he conceded that his "gut feeling" is that Iran wants nuclear weapons capability. But, he said, this was the regime's understandable way "to get that recognition to power and prestige and . . . an insurance policy against what they heard in the past about regime change, axis of evil." No "crazies" here!

Of course, the Obama administration has pointedly renounced the Bush administration's approach. So, if a new, more diplomacy-friendly U.S. president wants greater disclosure of the IAEA's Iran dossier, you'd think Mr. ElBaradei, whose term expires Nov. 30, would oblige. Mr. ElBaradei's good faith will be tested one last time at the upcoming IAEA meetings, and if he wants to leave any sort of legacy, he will tell the board -- and the world -- everything his agency knows.

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