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Iran Again Wins Nuclear Reprieve

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
February 1, 2006

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The standoff with Iran over its nuclear program appears to be headed to the UN Security Council (LAT). That decision, reached by the five permanent members of the Security Council, will not take effect until March. Nor is it certain the Security Council will impose economic sanctions to try to stop Tehran’s uranium enrichment plans. Even if it does, CFR fellow Ray Takeyh tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman the Security Council is "unlikely to generate a significant degree of pressure."

U.S. President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address on Jan. 31 urged a united international front to block Iran from acquiring the means to produce nuclear weapons. Last week, Iran sent mixed signals on a recent proposal by Russia, backed by the Security Council, to enrich uranium fuel within its borders on Iran’s behalf (New York Times). Tehran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, expressed reservations about the plan, which allows Iran to continue the uranium conversion process at its Isfahan facility but blocks the participation of Iranian scientists in enrichment work.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets February 2 to discuss referring Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions. Member states will also discuss a newly released report from the IAEA suggesting a "military-nuclear dimension" to Iran's nuclear program, which it has repeatedly said is for peaceful purposes (NYT). Two nonproliferation experts outline the difficulties facing the board in this recent press conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Experts say sanctions are unlikely because Iran is a major exporter of petroleum (Economist) at a time of $60-per-barrel fuel prices. CFR Fellow Adam Segal tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman in an interview that China, which gets a growing percentage of its oil from Iran, is unlikely to support sanctions.

So what can be done to break the nuclear stalemate? CFR President Richard Haass presided over a January 28 session at the World Economic Forum which sought to address this very question. Highlights of the discussion are available via webcast.

One option is diplomacy, but experts agree travel restrictions will be ineffective, and Ray Takeyh tells Bernard Gwertzman Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is largely indifferent to what the outside world thinks. The Brookings Institution's Flynt Leverett, echoing a proposal by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, suggests in the New York Times a nuclear-weapons-free Gulf, as well as creating a Gulf Security Council to ensure compliance. The less likely option, proposed by CFR Fellow Max Boot, is a military strike, by either the United States or Israel, against Iran's nuclear installments. Touching on concerns about Ahmadinejad, Boot says the risks outweigh the threat of having "a terrorist-sponsoring state led by an apocalyptic lunatic [who] will soon have the ability to incinerate Tel Aviv or New York." The majority of Americans, according to a Los AngelesTimes/Bloomberg poll, support such a strike if Iran's regime continues its nuclear programs.

Carnegie's Joseph Cirincione says a military strike would only make matters worse, noting how Israel's 1981 strike against Iraq's Osirak reactor only accelerated the Iraqi nuclear weapons program; Cirincione called that raid "a tactical success but a strategic failure."

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