This Deal Won't Put A Lid On Iran's Nukes

Is the Iranian nuclear crisis over? The Oct. 21 agreement between Britain, France, and Germany and Iran makes it seem so. Iran agreed to provide complete information on its nuclear programs and sign a "protocol" that will open the country to intrusive inspections. In return, the Europeans promised easier access to technology, including possibly nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The timing was perfect: Iran faced an Oct. 31 deadline by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. watchdog, to disclose the full details of its program, and failure to comply could have led to U.N. sanctions. The IAEA was already aware of secret nuclear sites and traces of enriched uranium in Iran, which can be used to make bombs. No wonder even U.S. President George W. Bush called the last-minute accord "a very positive development."

Many hurdles

But it's wishful thinking to conclude this crisis is over. True, the European deal keeps Iran in the international fold for now. Reformists in Tehran and global observers had feared the government might heed demands from ultrahard-line clerics to follow North Korea's example and quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That could further destabilize the region. And it would destroy efforts to improve relations between Iran and Europe -- and eventually perhaps the U.S.

But Tehran has so many hurdles to overcome to meet IAEA demands that tensions are bound to rise again. And Iran, mindful of its national pride, has demands of its own, as well as cards to play. As a goodwill gesture, Tehran offered to suspend its uranium-enrichment operations -- a process used for weapons or energy. But, warns Amir Mohebian, political editor of the conservative Iranian daily Resalat: "If the Europeans do not carry out [their] commitments, it will elevate the wall of mistrust."

The next crunch time is Nov. 20. That's when IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei must inform his governing board whether Iran is fully cooperating. Early signs are not promising. Two days after signing the European deal, Iran submitted to the IAEA a report that acknowledged serious violations of IAEA rules, including clandestine imports of uranium from China. But Iran failed to explain the origin of tiny amounts of weapons-grade uranium that the IAEA had found.

Meanwhile, Washington conservatives are likely to push for a rollback of Iran's entire nuclear program. They even want to prevent the completion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is building. If the nuclear-energy program isn't dismantled, "it's simply a prescription for mischief," warns Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of Washington's Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. With an election coming up, President Bush may want to avoid another Mideast confrontation. But whether he can ignore Iran may depend on how much it opens up to IAEA inspectors, who will have to verify that the regime isn't hiding secret programs. Tehran now bears the burden of proving its honest intent.

By Stan Crock in Washington, with Babak Pirouz in Tehran

Edited by Rose Brady

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