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Iran Nuclear Dispute Heats Up

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
February 3, 2006

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The International Atomic Energy Agency is considering a draft resolution expressing "serious concern" about Iran's nuclear program and calling for the issue to be formally reported to the UN Security Council. President Bush, in his State of the Union speech, said the "nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons." But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will not give in to "bullying" from other nations (BBC), and Iranian officials threaten to end international negotiations and restart their nuclear activities if Tehran is referred to the Security Council (LAT). The nuclear program is widely supported in Iranian society, CFR expert Ray Takeyh said at a January 31 CFR meeting on Iran. The nuclear program has become inextricably linked to national pride, so Iranians are unlikely to bow to international pressure to give it up, experts say.

In any case, concrete actions to punish Iran may be slow to come. Takeyh tells cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman the Security Council is "unlikely to generate a significant degree of pressure" on Tehran. Experts say sanctions are unlikely because Iran is a major exporter of petroleum at a time of rising fuel prices. CFR fellow Adam Segal tells Gwertzman that China, which gets a growing percentage of its oil from Iran, is unlikely to support sanctions. The BBC offers a primer on the positions various countries are taking on Iran's nuclear program. The Wall Street Journal envisions what a nuclear Iran would look like, while this WSJ article explores the possible scenarios of a military strike.

Iran appears to have rejected a proposal by Moscow (AP), backed by the Security Council, to enrich uranium fuel within Russian borders on Iran's behalf. The plan would allow Iran to continue the uranium conversion process at its Isfahan facility, but blocks the participation of Iranian scientists in enrichment work. Arms control experts Valery Lincy and Gary Milhollin call the Russian deal a sweetheart setup that would help Iran escape international censure just as the world is getting serious about punishing its behavior (NYT).

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.

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