Iran's mullahs continue to thumb their noses at the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, the United States and other governments that have repeatedly warned Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Even worse, they are taking advantage of the opportunity to fan the flames of xenophobia and further weaken the positions of political moderates.
On Sunday, the Iranian parliament, which has been largely stripped of moderate voices by the ruling theocrats, called unanimously for the resumption of uranium enrichment. The Iranians insist that their intentions are strictly peaceful and that they are merely attempting to develop a reliable, long-term source of power. No one believes them, and with good reason.
The members of parliament accompanied their vote not with praise for cheaper electricity but with cries of "Death to America." Mind you, most Iranian political activities are underlined by this ritual chant. But there are other reasons to question the mullahs' intentions and to demand they adhere to their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If Iran had no designs on nuclear weapons, why was it buying the blueprints for advanced centrifuges needed to make weapons-grade fuel nearly a decade ago? And if the motive is the legitimate development of nuclear power, why did the mullahs reject a European offer to provide sufficient nuclear fuel to run the country's reactors? Why, for that matter, do the mullahs retain full control over the nuclear program, when other energy-related matters are left to government bureaucrats?
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressed his understandable frustration in a report to the General Assembly this week. Iran, he said, should stop enriching uranium as "a confidence-building measure." Iranian President Mohammed Khatami says he remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached in negotiations with the European Union. Those talks have come up empty so far, but Javier Solana, the EU official responsible for security matters, says lower-level meetings with the Iranians have been "progressively more constructive as time goes on."
Officials from Britain, France and Germany, who have been handling the negotiations, are scheduled to meet again with the Iranians in Paris on Friday. The question is whether the militantly anti-Western mullahs will tolerate any sort of compromise. They are revelling in their outlaw status and using the international hostility as a pretext to crack down on dissidents. If they won't budge, the IAEA will have no choice but to lay the problem in the lap of the Security Council, which is where it should have landed months ago.