The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-member board of governors, after meeting to discuss a course of action on Iran (NYT), decided to refer the case to the UN Security Council. The Security Council could start talks on Iran as early as next week (BBC). Yet 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.
Earlier this week, reports surfaced of a deal by Russia that would allow "limited research activities" in Iran, provided Tehran temporarily suspend its uranium-enrichment programs for several years (NYT). The new proposal was built on an earlier offer from Moscow, outlined in this CFR Background Q&A, which allowed for the enrichment of Iranian uranium on Russian soil. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied the reports, claiming "there is no compromised, new Russian proposal," while meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington.
Despite the looming shift of the Iran file to the UN Security Council, Rice says sanctions are not a likely "first step" (WashPost). But other U.S. officials say they are losing patience with diplomacy. Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran on March 7 it faces "meaningful consequences" (AP) if it refuses to suspend its enrichment program. The United States suspects that Iran, by entering talks, is merely buying time to secretly advance its own nuclear capabilities. After three years of on-and-off negotiations with the Europeans, Iran has said it will resume full-scale uranium enrichment if referred to the Security Council, a right Tehran says is protected by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran has repeatedly maintained its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. The IAEA has found no proof of a diversion of material toward a nuclear weapons program in Iran, though board members adopted a resolution last month saying they "lack confidence in Iran’s intentions."
So what other options are available? 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. CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh called for "more imaginative U.S. diplomacy" on Iran, including more fuel or security assurances and "measurable sanctions relief" in exchange for suspending its uranium-enrichment programs. And 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 this report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.