October 6, 2003 | Washington Times

An Unsurprising Nuke Program

By David Silverstein

Reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered new traces of highly enriched uranium in a second facility in Iran should come as little surprise.

For more than two decades, the mullahs who rule that country with an iron grip have invested heavily in all means to secure their rule- including efforts to secure nuclear weapons.
The Iranian regime, including the so-called reformists, clearly has taken multiple routes to a bomb. Highly enriched uranium is not the only necessary precursor for the construction of nuclear weapons, and the mullahs have been pursuing others with equal avidity. According to the IAEA, and even the Iranian government's own disclosures, Iran has excavated new uranium mines, secured centrifuges for enriching uranium, and purchased stocks of uranium hexaflouride and uranium dioxide from China (critical to the enrichment process) — secret activities that have come to light only recently.

And Iran has kept up construction of the nuclear reactor at Bushehr (started by the Germans, now being finished by the Russians). Iran repeatedly has stated its nuclear projects are peaceful in nature and are only intended to provide much needed electricity for its growing population.
Why would an oil and gas rich nation like Iran need nuclear power generation and research facilities? It doesn't. Iran's strategy of securing nuclear weapons and missile technology (courtesy of North Korea) is part of its agenda to make itself the dominant power in the Middle East, deter any foreign challenge, and provide job security for the ruling clerics.
Iran does not need nuclear weapons to secure itself from nearby, nuke-capable India, Pakistan, and Russia because none has the means or intent to invade. Iran's large military is arguably powerful enough to deter most conventional threats especially now that Saddam Hussein is gone. But Iran's support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah (until September 11, 2001, the latter was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group), efforts to harass U.S. forces in Iraq, and statements calling for Israel's destruction have kept it in the gun-sights of two democratic nations — America and Israel. Iran's developing nuclear option is aimed largely at them.

Last week Iran displayed its medium-range Shahab-3 missiles at a ceremony to commemorate the start of the Iran-Iraq war — one of the missile carriers sported the slogan, “We will stamp on America.”

For the time being, Iran's nuclear capability remains incomplete and plans of regional dominance are secondary to suppressing internal dissent and speeding the American exit from Iraq. The regime employs torture, murder and a ruthless secret police to eliminate opponents like those who led last summer's student strikes: With a national median age of just 23, and with 16 percent unemployment and 40 percent of the population under the poverty line, the threat of more internal unrest is ever-present. And Iran dispatches agents-provocateur and beams subversive radio and television broadcasts across the border to incite Iraqis to attack U.S. forces.

Last month, the IAEA set a deadline of Oct. 31 for Iran to prove it is not developing nuclear weapons and submit to additional inspections of its nuclear facilities. In response, Iran's diplomats have dithered over whether they should cooperate while their colleagues in nuclear research undoubtedly are hiding their most sensitive technologies in the event inspections are allowed to proceed.

Whatever happens on the the 31st, the mullahs are unlikely to go down without a fight and remain too powerful at home for anyone to hope for a successful counterrevolution any time soon.

For now, the White House is leaving it to the IAEA and foreign nations to deal with this clear threat to peace and security. But international organizations have a poor track record of confronting rogue regimes, especially those that understand nuclear weapons are the first-class ticket to staying in power. Iran isn't about to give up that ticket.
David Silverstein is deputy director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a D.C.-based policy institute focused on terrorism.