Thursday, February 16, 2006

Merci, Monsieur

However unhelpful France was in the final UN Security Council confrontation with Saddam Hussein, all may soon be forgiven. Now that the French Foreign Minister has publicly scorned Iran's pretense that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, the options available to Iran have narrowed, and the chances of success for their nuclear gambit have diminished.

I don't pretend to any special expertise on nuclear weaponry, or even on the detailed workings of nuclear power plants--beyond what any engineer outside that specialty possesses. However, my own assessment of the relative economics of Iran's fossil energy resources and the cost of constructing nuclear reactors, let alone an entire nuclear fuel cycle, led me to eliminate most other explanations for Iran's recent behavior in this area. It's good to have this suspicion confirmed by another government besides ours, and one whose credibility is not affected by the intelligence failures on Iraq's WMD.

It remains to be seen whether this move will induce Iran's government to return to serious negotiations, or, as President Ahmadinejad suggested the other day, it will simply withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) altogether. Unless they find a way to back down soon, though, Iran's leaders will find that most of the remaining paths lead to international sanctions. Exiting the NPT could produce an even more direct response. Either outcome would push energy markets to new highs, and this risk will affect the price of oil as long as the situation remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, China rushes to close a deal on developing one of Iran's largest oil fields, before sanctions spoil the game.

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