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Consensus Sought at UN on Iran

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
Updated: March 15, 2006

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After a drawn-out series of negotiations, international attention focused on Iran's nuclear program is likely to only produce more talks. The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors last week referred Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council (PDF). The Security Council held an informal meeting Tuesday to discuss a draft statement from the United States, France, and Britain (FT). The statement has already received objections from veto-wielding members China and Russia.

After repeated attempts to avoid appearing before the Security Council, Iran seems to be maneuvering with confidence, gambling that the fifteen-member body will be too divided to dole out meaningful punishment (NYT). In response to the IAEA's referral, Iran announced it was rejecting Moscow's proposal—outlined in this Background Q&A—to help Iran enrich uranium in Russia.

Though often portrayed as a source of national pride, Karim Sadjadpour of the International Crisis Group tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman, many Iranians "feel concerned, ambivalent, or simply uninformed" about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Despite the public's growing misgivings (NYT), Iran has said it will resume full-scale uranium enrichment if referred to the Security Council, a right Tehran asserts under the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran has repeatedly maintained its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. But years of secretive research by Iran, coupled by harsh rhetoric from its president, have aroused concern in the international community about its intentions. Experts say punitive action, including economic sanctions, looks unlikely anytime soon because of stiff opposition from China and Russia, which hold Security Council vetoes and have strong economic and energy ties with Tehran.

The United States and its European allies suspect Tehran, by entering talks, is merely buying time to secretly advance its own nuclear capabilities, which raises the question: How to deal with Iran? The Washington Post suggests the Bush administration has already decided to pursue a policy of regime change, though alternatives are still being widely discussed. In March 2 Senate testimony, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, outlined a number of "stalling tactics" to deter and contain Iran, including arming Israel with more sophisticated weaponry and even selling Arab states advanced anti-missile technology. He also stressed the need to convince Americans of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran as well as emphasize Tehran's ties to terrorist groups like Hezbollah.

In testimony, CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh called for "more imaginative U.S. diplomacy" on Iran. Takeyh also provides one of four different approaches outlined by the Christian Science Monitor. A new International Crisis Group report suggests a several-years delay for reactivating Iran's nuclear activities coupled with "a highly intrusive inspections regime." Other punitive steps, including targeted sanctions and travel bans on Iranian officials, are outlined in a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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