This would not be the first time that the George W. Bush administration has opted for a collision course against the chief UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei. It happened in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Today, Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice kick themselves for heeding the moderate voices in the administration and the intelligence community, which urged desisting from the efforts to get Dr. ElBaradei sacked and learn to live with him.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington disclose that the tone and language American officials use far from the ears of the media and the public in their dealings with the chief nuclear inspector are far harsher than they were four years ago.
They accuse the chief UN inspector of “cheating” and slam his latest understanding with Tehran as an underhand scam to buy Iran more time for attaining weapons-grade enriched uranium and drawing out the next round of UN sanctions until after Bush departs the White House in January 2009.
For now, the administration does not intend to listen to ElBaradei but rather to bypass him and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna which he heads. Whereas Bush embarked on the Iraq War with Britain and its prime minister Tony Blair at his side, in 2007, he is partnered by France and its president Nicolas Sarkozy.
This American-French understanding backed the stark statement by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner on Sept. 18: The Iranian nuclear crisis forces the world to prepare for the worst, which is war.
He added for good measure a word of advice to big French companies to stay clear of Iranian tenders. Paris has thus lined up with Washington on a tough financial sanctions policy against Iran, along with Britain, Japan, Germany. At Washington’s insistence, their banks and major firms are instructed to shy away from business with Iran.
Dr. ElBaradei retorted to these actions with cutting candor.
Cut and thrust between Washington and ElBaradei
He urged Iran’s harshest critics Monday, Sept. 17, to learn from the Iraqi invasion and refrain from “hype” about a possible military attack, saying force was an option of the last resort. Only the Security Council can authorize such action, he said.
Pouring salt on the Bush administration’s wounds, he said: “I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons.”
He went on to say: “I do not believe at this stage that we are facing a clear and present danger that requires we go beyond diplomacy,” adding he had no information that the Iran program was being weaponized.
The Americans responded to the inspector’s cut with thrust:
On her way to Israel, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice attacked the UN nuclear watchdog chief for urging caution in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
She said diplomacy was best left to diplomats, not a technical body such as the IAEA. “All options remain on the table for resolving the standoff over Iran’s refusal to end its uranium-enrichment work,” she said. “It is not up to anybody to diminish or begin to cut back on the obligations that the Iranians have been ordered to take.”
Washington like Jerusalem declined to comment officially on the Israeli attack on a nuclear-related facility in Syria. However, the White House enlisted John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations and still a powerful figure in Washington, for a comment that reflected the official line.
He said Tuesday, Sept. 18: “The United States would stand behind any preemptive attack by Israel on neighboring countries believed to have nuclear weapons programs. …We’re talking about a clear message to Iran: Israel has the right to self-defense, and that includes offensive operations against WMD facilities that pose a threat to Israel. The United States would justify such attacks.”
Where does this line take the Bush administration?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington report that Washington is using the Israeli attack on the nuclear research facility as a further lever to push the Syrian president into a corner. He is to be hung on the horns of a dilemma between losing his regime – he is already teetering now as never before – or forsaking his pact with Iran, withdrawing his patronage from Hizballah and the radical Palestinian terrorist groups, and cooperating with the United States in Lebanon instead of working to destabilize its government.
Assad fights back with weapon of assassination
As long as Assad shows no give on any of these issues, the administration will squeeze him relentlessly, militarily, diplomatically and through its propaganda organs.
Tuesday, Sept. 18, Janes Defense Weekly reported an explosion which occurred on July 26 at the Syrian Al Safir missile factory in northern Syria. Although the blast was aired by Syrian television and radio which reported its cause as hot weather, the deaths of 15 soldiers and another 50 injured, the British publication presented the episode as a mysterious assault in which many Syrians and Iranians were killed.
These publications have a cumulative effect on Syrian and Arab opinion, exponentially reducing the time left for Assad to explain away a string of military fiascoes which are increasingly imperiling Syrian national security.
US intelligence sources also persuaded several Arab media in the Middle East and Gulf to challenge Damascus in their reporting and editorials to allow international nuclear inspectors to visit Bir al Harj and so validate the Syrian leadership claims that they are innocent of nuclear ties with North Korea. They should also open up and exhibit the putative cement consignment delivered at Tartus port, say those Arab media.
Some remark caustically that, since the IAEA chief Dr ElBaradei has proved to be a good friend to Iran, Syria’s senior ally, President Bashar Assad can afford full transparency and count on the UN watchdog to absolve Syria of nuclear wrongdoing.
Assad was not drawn to transparency on the suspect agricultural station, either before or after the Israeli air attack.
These pressures and counter-pressures are also related to the epic struggle over the successor to Lebanese president, the pro-Syrian Emil Lahoud. The Lebanese parliament convenes Sept. 25 for the vote. The post is the preserve of the Lebanese Christian community.
The suspense over the vote shot up Wednesday, Sept. 19, with the assassination in East Beirut of the anti-Syrian lawmaker Antoine Ghanem by a bomb car, which rammed his vehicle killing him and five others. After orchestrating the murder of eight anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians in two years, Bashar Assad is not likely to be intimidated by the Bush administration’s tactics.