Iranian President MahmoudAhmadinejad thinks he has our number. He is convinced he can continueto flout a U.N. Security Council demand that Iran verifiably suspendits uranium enrichment operations, and get the Europeans, theRussians and the Chinese to convince us to continue talking.
Last Tuesday, at the very moment European negotiator Javier Solanawas trying to jawbone the Iranians in Tehran, Iran told theInternational Atomic Energy Agency that it had restartedenrichment.
Let's be very clear about this. Mr. Solana had been charged withdelivering an ultimatum from the Permanent Five members of the U.N.Security Council plus Germany, and the Iranians gave an immediateanswer: No.
The choice Mr. Solana delivered to the Iranian regime went like this:You must immediately suspend in a verifiable manner all uraniumenrichment activities, and if you do here is a list of the goodthings we will do for you. If you refuse, however, I have a secondlist, which details all the pain we intend to inflict on yourregime.
Mr. Solana emerged from the talks with Iran's top negotiator, AliLarijanai, saying he was "optimistic." He repeated that on Wednesdayafter reporting to French President Jacques Chirac in Paris. Irangave its answer; but no one seemed to be listening.
The indifference of the West must have been frustrating to Mr.Ahmadinejad, because on Thursday he made his rejection of the Westernoffer clear.
Speaking to a crowd in Qazvin, home of one of Iran's previouslysecret nuclear weapons research sites, Mr. Ahmadinejad reiterated hislongstanding insistence Iran would never give up its "definiterights" to uranium enrichment. "If they think they can threaten andhold a stick over Iran's head and offer negotiations at the sametime, they should know the Iranian nation will definitely reject suchan atmosphere," he said.
That is not coded diplomatic language, nor subject to interpretation.The Iranians have consistently used the same terms whenever they haveflouted the International Atomic Energy Agency or the U.N. SecurityCouncil over uranium enrichment. It is their right, they insist;therefore, no one can demand that they give it up, eventemporarily.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has refusedto comment on the Iranian moves, or on Mr. Ahmadinejad'sstatements.
He should not be faulted personally. After all, he is just aspokesman, not a policymaker.
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice needs to step up to theplate, and make clear -- yet again -- that the Six Power offer toIran is not a negotiating position, or an opening ante. It is exactlywhat she said it was when she first announced it on May 31. It's achoice that the Iranians must make. And now they have made it.
The worst possible outcome of the nuclear showdown with Iran would befor the West to ignore the Islamic Republic leaders when they clearlyannounce their choice. It's called the slippery slope. Take one stepdown that road, and it's a quick bone-crushing ride down the chute tofailure. And in this case, failure means a nuclear-armed Iran.
In making their offer to Iran, the Great Powers did not do the rightthing, or the moral thing: provide massive assistance topro-democracy forces in Iran; the bus-drivers, the students, thewomen, the teachers and the young people who repeatedly take to thestreets in defiance of club-wielding police and paramilitaryhooligans.
When things really get rough, as they did last August in the town ofSaqqez in northwestern Iran, the regime will not hesitate to call outhelicopter gunships to mow down crowds of protesters. And yet, theprotesters keep coming.
The moral thing would have been to provide the protesters and theirleaders with massive assistance in their efforts to get rid of thisregime.
It also would have been the most effective threat to have included onthe list of "or else" that Mr. Solana was supposed to have deliveredin Tehran, since outside help for pro-democracy forces is the onething this regime truly fears.
Mr. Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics know far better than Westernchancelleries just how unpopular and vulnerable they truly are.Although the regime and its supporters still insist voters turned out"massively" to support his election last year, opposition groupsclaim Iranian voters massively boycotted the poll.
TV footage of large crowds, fed by state-run television to foreignnetworks, turned out to have been taken during previous elections,according to Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a human rights activist andjournalist who translated the old election posters in thebackground.
Many polling places in Tehran happened to be at places where theTehran municipality had installed video traffic cameras, which can beviewed on the Internet. I monitored a half-dozen of them on electionday, and saw hardly a person enter the polls.
If the Great Powers are not yet ready to do the moral thing andsupport the legitimate aspiration to freedom of the Iranian people,then the very least they can do is hold firm on the conditions of theoffer Mr. Solana made.