Is the Bush administration headed down the same road that led to its attack on Iraq - a path that has cost the United States billions of dollars and an expensive loss of life for its armed forces and thousands of Iraqis?
This thought is prompted by a letter from the International Atomic Energy Agency that says a House committee staff report is "outrageous and dishonest" in stating that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward making weapons. The agency charged that the report "contains erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information" about Iran's nuclear program. The Sept. 12 letter was sent to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The IAEA letter charged that a caption under a picture of Iran's main nuclear site falsely states that Tehran is "enriching uranium to weapons grade" with a collection of centrifuges, the high speed machines that are used to turn uranium into a fuel usable in nuclear power plants or bombs. The letter says the uranium was enriched only to 3.6 percent - a level suitable for producing power, but far short of the 90 percent commonly associated with fuel for weapons.
The letter also claimed that a senior nuclear inspector was not removed from the Iran investigating team by the IAEA chief for concluding that the purpose of Iran nuclear program is to construct weapons, as the House report claimed. Rather, he was removed at the request of Tehran, which had a right to ask for a replacement under an agreement that governs states' relationship with the agency.
This disagreement is not unlike the situation between the Bush administration and the IAEA regarding whether or not Iraq, under the guidance of Saddam Hussein, was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. At the onset of the Iraq invasion, this was given as the main reason for the action.
Meanwhile, Iran missed the Aug. 31 deadline set by the United States to stop uranium enrichment. The United States has agreed to extend that deadline to early October. If the deadline is not met, the United States wants to impose travel bans and asset freezes on officials of Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to allow more time for the European Union negotiator to continue talks with Iran's negotiator.
At a news conference at the United Nations, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, held out a slight hope that Iran might at some point agree to end nuclear activities. "We have said that under fair conditions and just conditions, we will negotiate about it. We will tell you when that time arrives," he stated. He, of course, did not define what he means by "fair and just conditions." It is unlikely that the United States and its allies would agree with his definition.
The world would be a better place if we could believe what the leaders of countries tell us. I am not optimistic that the United States can reach agreement with Iran or Iran with the United States. Hopefully, it will be resolved without military action.
However, I am deeply concerned that President Bush, supported by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, will find military action the ultimate answer, as they did in Iraq. Most military and political leaders say Iran is much stronger militarily than Iraq and a military venture there could prove to be very difficult.
The Bush team should keep in mind that army officials recently said that they might be forced to make greater use of the National Guard to provide enough troops for overseas duty. These troops for the most part are not ready for combat.
Murray Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.