As the United Nations Security Council prepares to debate a third round of sanctions against Iran for its continuing refusal to stop its uranium enrichment program, it is time for the five permanent, veto-wielding states to get serious about their efforts to curb the ambitions of an increasing powerful and defiant clerical regime in Tehran.
So far, the United Nations has managed only two weak sanctions resolutions, one in December and a second in March. What effect have these measures had on the ability of the Iranians to continue their nuclear pursuits, in spite of repeated demands from the international community that such activities be stopped immediately? You be the judge:
**Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli, Deputy Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, was recently quoted as saying that Iran currently has 1,600 active centrifuges for enriching uranium and that Iran is installing 3,000 centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility. The Deputy Secretary also said that Iran plans to construct more than 50,000 of these centrifuges in the future.
**Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated in the last few weeks that Iran intends to continue its nuclear program, become an exporter of nuclear fuel, and ignore any future U.N. Security Council resolutions against it.
**Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader and the real power behind the government in Tehran, has said in just the past few days that Iran would never back down from its nuclear right.
**A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on May 22, 2007 stated that there had been notable advances in Iranâ€™s uranium enrichment program and that the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency knew less about Iranâ€™s nuclear efforts than has been the case in the past.
Maybe itâ€™s time for the member states of the United Nations to start taking Iranian leaders at their word and recognize that they have meant what they have said about their nuclear program all along. Iran has carefully worked to position itself as the dominant power in the Middle East. Tehran continues to sponsor the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon and there is increasing evidence of direct Iranian involvement in arming Iraqi insurgents and militias. And, just this week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that Iranian weapons were making their way to the Taliban in Afghanistan. And while Secretary Gates said there was no evidence of direct involvement by the government in Tehran, does anyone believe that weapons are being funneled from a tightly controlled theocratic state to the Taliban without the knowledge of the ruling clerical regime?
Iran wants to dominate the entire Middle East, and its actions in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and with the United Nations all contribute to that long-range strategic goal. The development of a nuclear capability that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction would make it much easier for Iran to realize its national objectives in the region and could spark a wider crisis if Israel or Sunni-dominated governments feel threatened enough to act in an effort to counter the Iranian push.
Thus far, negotiations that have included very attractive incentives packages from the European Union and the west have yielded no real progress as Tehran continues to stall for time with the U.N. while working feverishly to fully develop its nuclear capability. With negotiations failing, there are really only two options available for nations opposed to the continuing nuclear developments in Iran: a military strike or tough, meaningful sanctions that will have a real impact on Tehran.
The United Nations will never act to authorize a preemptive attack on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities. Even if all five permanent members of the Security Council agreed that Iran posed a grave threat to stability and security in the region, which they donâ€™t, France, Russia, and China would never vote to allow a military strike on a country in which they are so heavily invested. That would leave the United States, and possibly Great Britain, to execute such an attack without the backing of the U.N., something that is probably not realistic given the probable regional and international consequences of such a move.
With a military endeavor against Iran unlikely, we return once again to the prospect of additional sanctions designed to curb Tehranâ€™s nuclear aspirations. Historically, economic sanctions have been relatively ineffective, especially when the targeted behavior is deemed crucial to national interests by the state subject to the sanctions or when imposing nations enforce the sanctions half-heartedly, or even worse, not at all.
The acquisition by Iran of a nuclear capability that can be used to produce atomic weapons poses a serious threat to the Middle East and to the rest of the world. The consequences of such a development are severe, and the options for dealing with this threat are limited.
If the international community is willing to live with the prospect of a Middle East dominated by Iran, and the consequences associated with such a shift in the balance of power in the region, then we can expect the next round of debate in the Security Council to produce another weak condemnation of Iranian nuclear activities. If the member states of the U.N. are truly worried about the spread of Iranian influence and power, though, then the time is rapidly approaching for them to demonstrate the seriousness of this situation. The best way to do that is by authorizing measures tough enough to demonstrably affect Tehranâ€™s ability to defy the U.N. and pursue a nuclear program capable of developing nuclear weapons.