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Iran Mulls Russia Nuclear Option

Author: Lionel Beehner
January 30, 2006

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Tehran has sent mixed signals on a recent proposal by Russia to enrich uranium fuel (NYT) within its borders on Iran's behalf. All five permanent members of the UN Security Council back the plan. Tehran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has 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. 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. China, which gets a growing proportion of its oil from Iran, is unlikely to support sanctions, says CFR Fellow Adam Segal, in an interview with cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman.

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 Angeles Times/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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