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Bipartisan Policy Center: Establishing a Credible Threat Against Iran's Nuclear Program

February 1, 2012

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Despite perceived setbacks, including the Stuxnet cyber attack and increased sanctions, the danger of a nuclear Iran has not diminished. The Bipartisan Policy Center offers new recommendations for moving forward.

Preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is the most urgent national security challenge facing the United States. Despite enduring 15 years of sanctions, a cyber attack on its nuclear facilities and other setbacks, Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold. Successive U.S. administrations, including Obama's, have declared a nuclear weapons-capable Iran "unacceptable." Indeed, since its establishment in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has continually threatened U.S. strategic and economic interests. Led by messianic, extremist revolutionaries, the country terrorizes both its own people and its enemies abroad, subverts neighboring governments and America's regional allies, and works to drive up oil prices as a mechanism of economic warfare. The Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons capability.

If it did, containing it would prove a gravely challenging and costly task. An Iran with nuclear weapons, which the ideologically fervent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
(IRGC) would control, will trigger severe strategic and economic consequences, and create an unstable situation that could lead to a nuclear conflict between Iran and Israel, almost certainly drawing in the United States. Moreover, Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would trigger a spike in oil prices for a sustained period, further undercutting the global economy. And even though current policies have failed to reverse Iran's nuclear progress, until recently there was almost no discussion of fresh policy options. The Obama administration has yet to make the toughest choices and has appeared increasingly more focused on isolating Iran than preventing it from achieving nuclear weapons capability. Unless the United States soon takes a more assertive leadership role, Iran could develop nuclear weapons capability in 2012 and Israel is likely to feel compelled to take unilateral military action against Iran. We must stop the clock.

Doing so will require demonstrating resolve to do whatever it takes to prevent a nuclear Iran. While we hope for a peaceful settlement, we recognize that additional leverage is required to enable it. For that reason we endorse the triple-track approach called for in previous BPC reports: diplomacy, robust sanctions, and credible, visible preparations for a military option of last resort. To augment the latter we call on U.S. leaders to enhance Israeli military capabilities so as to put additional pressure on the Iranian regime. At this late date, it is only the threat of force, combined with sanctions, that affords any realistic hope of an acceptable diplomatic resolution. We recognize, however, that ultimately the rise of a democratic, responsible and peaceful regime in Tehran will be the only way to resolve this challenge.

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