Kicking the Can With Iran

President Bush offered a big economic carrot to Iran Thursday - entry to the World Trade Organization - to sway it from making bomb-grade uranium. This US shift, from threatening the Islamic republic to wooing it, hasn't been in Mr. Bush's antiterrorism playbook up to now.

The move could be downright Clintonian.

Before, Bush hadn't wanted to repeat a mistake made by President Clinton, who offered economic benefits to another nuclear-bent nation, North Korea, in exchange for halting a bombmaking program, only to see it cheat. Iran, too, was caught cheating on its nuclear agreements in 2002.

Bush has chosen wisely, however, because the US really can't make good on any military or economic threats against Iran. And Iran, too, is in need of trade benefits to create jobs for its massive numbers of unemployed youth.

Both sides can kick this nuclear can down the road. By most accounts, Iran is at least three years away from making a nuclear device, if that's what it is actually doing.

Still, the ultimate solution will be difficult. Iran also wants up to 10 nuclear reactors. That would require even more international inspectors crawling over suspect facilities to keep Iran from cheating again.

In talks with its European interlocutors this week, Iran agreed to halt its uranium enrichment for two months to see what the West has to offer. With the US clearing the way for Iran's entry into the WTO, a deal that would prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is possible - at least for now.

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