Despite years of peaceful negotiations/sanctions led by Europe with the aim of dissuading Iran from its nuclear ambitions, the Islamic Republic last week announced it was installing 6000 new uranium-enriching centrifuges. If that wasn’t enough, new evidence of a secret Iranian long-range missile facility provides another example of “global test” multilateralism and its mixed results.
On Friday, the Times of London reported on fresh satellite photographs that reveal a previously-undisclosed missile site in the Semnan Province, 230km southeast of Tehran:
Analysis of the photographs taken by the Digital Globe QuickBird satellite four days after the launch has revealed a number of intriguing features that indicate to experts that it is the same site where Iran is focusing its efforts on developing a ballistic missile with a range of about 6,000km (4,000 miles).
According to the experts quoted by the Times, Iran is imitating North Korean designs for its missile program. In February, Iranian state television reported on the successful firing of a Kavoshgar 1 rocket from the Semnan facility, which Iran says is part of its nascent space program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself said of the February launch, “We need to have an active presence in space. We witness today that Iran has taken its first step in space very firmly, precisely and with awareness.”
All previous attempts by the West to engage Iran have failed, as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear program that even the United Nations has demanded be stopped. Iran is now in the process of completing two of the three steps involved in creating a nuclear weapon – uranium enrichment, and development of long-range missiles. The third step, “weaponization,” is merely the product of adding steps one and two together. Although the well-publicized National Intelligence Estimate said that Iran hasn’t restarted its weaponization program, the fact remains that Iran has all the tools in place to build a nuclear warhead that could reach Europe.
There are no easy solutions. Iran has no reason to stop its current course as long as it doesn’t perceive the possibility of reprisals. As long as Ahmadinejad can plausibly claim that he’s only seeking nuclear power for domestic energy needs, and that he’s only launching rockets as part of a space program, he doesn’t appear to be an imminent threat to the West. And after five years of a war in the Middle East that most people in the world opposed from the start, most European democracies have no desire to consider a military option when dealing with Iran. However, since they can’t afford to ignore the problem completely, they turned to an unlikely hero – President George W. Bush.
Earlier this month, President Bush won an important diplomatic victory at the NATO summit in Bucharest. Despite objections from Russia, NATO endorsed the President’s plan to build a missile defense system in Europe. The Organization went so far as to tell Russia to cooperate with the U.S. in the effort. The U.S. plan is to build 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, and a radar site in the Czech Republic. The Czech foreign minister announced that negotiations with the U.S. over the radar site had already been completed. Talks between the U.S. and Poland are ongoing.
According to the latest Gallup poll, Bush’s approval rating has sunk to an all-time low of 28%. Even so, it’s worth noting that the lame duck President, not widely regarded for his diplomatic savvy, hasn’t thrown in the towel on multilateralism just yet.