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Iran’s Undeterred Nuclear Quest

Prepared by: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
Updated: February 26, 2007


Iran failed to meet a sixty-day deadline set by the UN Security Council to suspend its nuclear program, according to a new report (NYT) by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fact, the UN nuclear agency said Iran was expanding its enrichment work, with close to one thousand centrifuges in operation at its Natanz facility. Iranian officials have announced their intention soon to complete a cascade of three thousand centrifuges, the scale of uranium enrichment devices necessary to produce a nuclear bomb. But a top Iranian nuclear official repeated Tehran’s condemnation of what he called the "illegal and politically motivated" (IRNA) Security Council resolution. The five veto-wielding members of the Council agreed on Monday to start work (Reuters) on a new resolution regarding Iran. The BBC says a new round of sanctions could involve further travel bans on Iranian officials linked to the country’s nuclear program. 

CFR Director of Studies Gary Samore, a former Clinton administration nuclear negotiator, says an optimistic explanation of Iran’s actions is that the country wants to have a three-thousand-centrifuge facility in place at Natanz so it can claim a technical objective before returning seriously to talks and putting a suspension back in place. But Samore is doubtful whether Iran will move to give up its nuclear program. Rhetorically, at least, Tehran has used the sixty-day UN compliance deadline to reassert its right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week spoke out against international efforts to “bully” Iran (IRNA) and said nuclear energy is important (ISNA) for “the progress and honor of the country.” He also said the country was ready to halt enrichment if Western states did the same. This continues a pattern of defiance following Western-led efforts in the past year to offer carrots for Iranian cooperation, then threats, and finally the December 23 resolution banning the supply of materials and technology that could be used to build nuclear weapons.

The Council's previous resolution called for additional sanctions in the event of noncompliance. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has fended off calls in the past for tougher measures, has expressed frustration with Iran’s response to the resolution. Russia also recently gave notice that Iran has fallen behind on payments for construction of the Bushehr light-water reactor, though some analysts interpreted the announcement as a Russian ploy (Kommersant) for bargaining power ahead of the UN talks.

Even if the United States and its allies make little progress pushing for new multilateral sanctions—such as a possible arms embargo on Tehran—Washington seems likely to continue placing financial pressure on foreign companies doing business in Iran, as this Backgrounder explains. For their part, EU nations have announced they will move forward with a ban on selling nuclear-related goods to Iran. But Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control and Valerie Lincy of write that the EU announcement failed (NYT) to explicitly crack down on many subsidiary firms that supply the Iranian regime with such materials.  

Increased international pressure on Iran is likely to be met with defiance, CFR Senior Fellow Ray Takeyh told a recent hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Takeyh downplayed the impact of a policy of coercion or pressure, saying “in the end, a diplomatic engagement between the United States and Iran may be the only manner of tempering the theocracy’s more troublesome designs.” But Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal, call such diplomatic efforts “naïve and dangerous” and warn that “experience shows that engagement means something different in Iran than in the West.”

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