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Libya fallout: Why Iran, North Korea now less likely to drop nuclear ambitions

Had Qaddafi held onto his nuclear program, would he be hiding from Western warplanes? Libya's lesson will make it even harder for the US to reach a deal with Iran or North Korea.

By Staff writer / April 1, 2011


It’s a pretty good bet that, as he sits in his fortified compound, Western airstrikes targeting his military, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi rues the day he heeded US pressures and gave up his nuclear weapons program.

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And, more than a bet, it’s now a matter of record that Iranian leaders interpret Colonel Qaddafi’s plight as a lesson in why not to compromise with the US and other international powers on nuclear development. Their assumption is that, were Qaddafi still in possession of his nuclear and other WMD programs, the West would have thought twice before it attacked.

What that lesson virtually guarantees, though, is that while Iran’s nuclear program may have fallen off the front pages in the wake of Mideast turmoil and the Libyan conflict, the confrontation pitting Iran against the international community will eventually turn hotter than ever.

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The resistance of Iran (as well as that of North Korea) to any compromise on nuclear programs is “only going to get worse as a result of the Libyan adventure,” says Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “Now the question of Iran is going to loom ever larger in the minds of many, and the administration is going to have to deal with this.”

He says “incredible pressure to refocus efforts on the Iranian nuclear program” is going to hit the Obama administration in the weeks ahead – for example, when the intensely anti-Iran AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, holds its annual policy conference in Washington in late May.

Iran, West already stalemated

Iran and the West were already at a stalemate over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. But recent pronouncements out of Tehran suggest the Iranians will be even less open to compromise on their continued stockpiling of enriched uranium – fuel they say is for “peaceful” nuclear energy production, but which in a highly enriched form could be used to arm a nuclear weapon.

Last month, as bombs fell on Libyan forces, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the West-led campaign proved that Iran was right not to trust the US and other powers and compromise on its nuclear program. Unlike Libya, which he said gave up its nuclear program for empty promises, Iran “not only did not retreat but … officials tried to increase nuclear facilities year after year,” he said.


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