Bolton Says U.S. Should Seek `Regime Change' in Iran (Update1)

By Janine Zacharia and Bill Varner

March 1 (Bloomberg) -- John Bolton, the former American envoy to the United Nations, said the U.S. should pursue ``regime change'' in Iran because European governments refuse to back sanctions tough enough to halt the suspected Iranian nuclear-bomb program.

``I believe that either regime change in Iran or, as a last resort, military action is the only thing that will stop the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons,'' Bolton said in an interview today in Washington.

Bolton, a 58-year-old former arms-control official, said the Bush administration had allowed Britain, France and Germany to ``screw around'' in nuclear talks. The diplomacy has gone on for ``three and a half years, and that allowed the Iranians to make enormous progress on their nuclear-weapons program,'' he said.

President George W. Bush, who labeled Iran and North Korea part of an ``axis of evil'' in 2002, has said their nuclear programs could pose a direct threat to the U.S., and that either nation might hand over atomic weapons to terrorists. The U.S. has pursued negotiated settlements with both countries while crafting UN sanctions aimed at cutting off nuclear trade with them.

Bolton left the UN in December after failing to win congressional support to extend his tenure. He has emerged as a gadfly, criticizing the administration for its strategy on nuclear proliferation. He assailed Bush and his diplomats on Iran and for a deal with North Korea to trade energy aid for the closing of nuclear-arms-related facilities. Bolton said that accord is doomed to fail because of North Korea's record of cheating on similar arrangements.

`Fruitless' Effort

Broadly, Bolton said any negotiation with either North Korea or Iran to persuade them to abandon their nuclear ambitions won't work. ``Unless you're prepared to believe that the Iranians are voluntarily going to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons, the idea of pursuing negotiations is ultimately going to be fruitless,'' Bolton said.

Those criticisms were brushed aside by a spokesman for Bush's National Security Council. ``He is a private citizen, welcome to his own views,'' said the NSC's Gordon Johndroe. ``We're pursuing diplomacy.''

Iranian officials have countered that diplomatic pressure by insisting the nuclear push is for commercial power generation, not weapons.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pronounced ah-ma- deen-ah-ZHAD, on Feb. 25 compared Iran's nuclear development to an unstoppable train and said there would be no turning back. Iran ``threw away a while ago the reverse gear and brakes of this train,'' he said, in remarks carried by the state-run Iranian Students News Agency.

Intelligence Gap

Bolton, now with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said one drawback of any military strike on Iran is that the Iranians may have a secret uranium-enrichment facility that weapons inspectors will never find.

``The downside of the military option is that you would incur all of the costs of having undertaken military action but potentially not gotten the benefits of decisively breaking the nuclear fuel cycle at one or more points,'' he said. ``What that says is we need better intelligence about what the Iranians are actually up to beyond what is already in the public domain.''

Because of all of this, the U.S. needs to tap the ``substantial Iranian diaspora,'' which the U.S. is ``not using as effectively as we might,'' and ``exploit'' the dissatisfaction inside Iran to topple the cleric-led government that has ruled the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Bolton said.

UN Punishments

The United Nations Security Council voted 15 to 0 on Dec. 23 to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program for the first time, including a ban on acquisition of materials and technology that might be used to build an atomic bomb.

The U.S. was forced to agree to a watered-down version of what it sought in negotiations in the Security Council.

In Washington today, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack defended the UN resolution, saying it was ``just one example of the careful multilateral diplomacy that this administration has engaged in over a period of time.'' He said the measure put the U.S. ``in the position to try to move forward toward some of our objectives.''

Since the resolution's passage, Iran expanded its capacity to enrich uranium, defying a Security Council demand to halt its atomic work, and plans to install 3,000 centrifuges designed to produce nuclear fuel at its underground facility in Natanz by May, according to a Feb. 22 International Atomic Energy Agency report.

Further Measures

The Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany met in London on Feb. 26 to discuss a draft resolution that would impose further penalties on Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment.

Germany's envoy to the UN said Feb. 23 there should be only ``modest'' expansion of UN sanctions. Bolton said European reticence reflects a core problem: that those governments are ``overcome by their economic interests'' in the Iranian market.

Countries and companies from Spain to Malaysia are pursuing long-term oil and gas agreements with Iran, rebuffing Bush's campaign to turn Iran into an economic pariah.

Bolton, who blasted the agreement the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia reached with North Korea that requires the country to scrap its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program in return for energy aid, criticized scheduled talks next week.

Nuclear Negotiator

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill's meeting with North Korea in New York, aimed at normalizing relations, won't lead Kim Jong Il's dictatorship to abandon nuclear weapons, Bolton said. Eventually the failure of diplomacy to disarm North Korea will force the U.S. to consider a military strike, he said.

Hill is set to meet March 5 and 6 with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.

``This is all a part of re-legitimizing them,'' Bolton said of the North Korean dictatorship.

Hill, who negotiated the North Korea deal for the U.S., said Feb. 22, ``We ultimately decided that, even though North Korea does need to make a strategic decision to get out of this nuclear weapons business, to realize that decision is going to require a step-by-step process.''

Bolton expressed concern that the new deal doesn't address North Korea's chemical weapons arsenal. He said the U.S. government estimates North Korea has up to 12,000 artillery tubes along the demilitarized zone with South Korea and that an initial attack on South Korea would be with chemical weapons.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janine Zacharia in Washington at jzacharia@bloomberg.net ; Bill Varner in United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net .