Dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions: four approaches

Nuclear probation

LOS ANGELES - The International Atomic Energy Agency's decision to report Iran to the Security Council places Washington and its allies on a collision course with Tehran. Unless the disputants come up with a new strategy that overcomes serious international suspicions about the clerics' nuclear intentions while preserving Iran's rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), current diplomacy offers little wiggle room. As the parties dig in their heels, this leaves sanctions and the specter of military action with all the attendant risks to regional stability and global oil markets.

Resolution of differences will require some adept diplomatic footwork. The seeds may come from Iran's persistent declaration that its nuclear objectives remain peaceful. However, a yet untried approach, "nuclear probation," could meet the needs of all concerned parties.

Probation would concede Iran's NPT right to develop a nuclear fuel cycle in exchange for placing resident international inspectors at all of Tehran's atomic sites indefinitely. Access to personnel and procurement documentation, dual-use equipment and military workshops, and research and development locations would also be available to the IAEA on demand.

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If violated, a probation agreement would lay out the stark consequences "endorsed" by the Security Council on a "rapid time table," involving economic isolation, military blockade, and armed action to destroy suspicious nuclear facilities.

The proposal recognizes the reality that Iran remains determined to get nuclear fuel facilities allegedly to preserve nuclear energy independence. Probation allows it to do so by tethering it to the IAEA while providing teeth to enforce Tehran's nonproliferation vows. Iran's rejection of a plan that would meet its nuclear-energy objectives would remove any doubts that Tehran is bent on a nuclear weapons program. Successful application of probation will provide the IAEA with a new enforcement mechanism to ensure that "inalienable" rights to nuclear technology go hand-in-hand with nonproliferation responsibilities.

Bennett Ramberg served in the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H. W. Bush administration.

Focus on actions, not Iran's intent

WASHINGTON - To build a successful strategy for stopping Iran's nuclear programs, the United States and its allies have three options.

The first is to try and convince the world that Iran actually has an active nuclear-weapons program. But with no "smoking gun" confirming an official weaponization effort, skepticism over the pieces of evidence remains.

The second option is for the US to argue that whether intended or not, an enrichment program gives Iran the ability to produce nuclear weapons, something that should not be tolerated given Iran's support for terrorist groups and opposition to peace in the region. However, Iran counters that America is trying to prevent Iran's economic development and notes the fact that the US and a half a dozen other states possess their own uranium enrichment programs.

The final option is to argue that Iran's violations of international treaties and solemn legal commitments require that it make restitution to the international community.

In September 2005, the IAEA determined Iran was in "noncompliance" with its obligations, and catalogued an 18-year record of deception. In short, Iran was found guilty of breaking "nuclear law" and should be required to face the consequences.

This legalistic argument provides the UN Security Council with a firm basis to impose new restrictions and obligations on Iran. Ideally, and with some effort, the US might gain agreement that the Security Council compel Iran to forfeit all of the equipment and materials it illegally acquired and operated.

It is unlikely that the most ambitious arguments put forward by Washington will gain broad international support. On the other hand, arguing that all states - including Iran - must meet legal obligations has a firm basis in national and international law.

Allowing Iran to deflect incomplete or ineffective arguments about its weapon intentions, thereby distracting the world from its illegal activities, only plays into Tehran's hands and hastens the day when Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons.

Jon B. Wolfsthal is a fellow with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Continued pressure could backfire

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration can applaud itself for finally managing to convince nations as varied as France and Russia that it is time to get tough with Iran. However, reinvigorated international pressure on Iran will play right into President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hands and his strategy of invoking external threats as a means of consolidating his power and justifying an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

What complicates the world's handling of Iran's nuclear ambitions is that its hard-line president welcomes his country's deepening isolation. Mr. Ahmadinejad's election was a rebuke to a ruling establishment whom he accused of corruption and complacency. These populist appeals, along with his incendiary speeches, have irritated the elders of the revolution and spawned subtle attempts to curb his influence. To fend off his rivals and buttress his power, Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than a clash with the "Great Satan" that would rally nationalist passions and discredit his more moderate foes.

Viewed through the Iranian prism, US and European pressure on Iran to relinquish irrevocably the prerogative to pursue the full range of nuclear research and activities that are permitted of all other signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not a reasonable response to the regime's two decades of deception about the extent of its nuclear program; rather it smacks of the capitulation treaties historically imposed on their hapless country. As the country's leading dissident, Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, acknowledged, "People have complaints about the government, but when confronted with external enemies we are united."

However, there is still a way out of Iran's nuclear impasse. The focus of US diplomacy should not be Ahmadinejad. Rather, Washington and its European allies should craft a creative package of security assurances and meaningful sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran's suspension of the critical components of its nuclear infrastructure. While such incentives would never tempt Iran's intemperate president, they may succeed in peeling away important elements of the regime as well as the Iranian population from the cause of nuclear arms.

A negotiated resolution of this impasse would also diminish Ahmadinejad's populist appeal by preventing him from exploiting these tensions to deflect attention from his failure to deliver on his promise of a better life for ordinary Iranians.

As the Bush administration wrestles with Iran's nuclear challenge, it would be wise to appreciate that a more imaginative diplomacy can not only undermine Iran's demagogic president but also restrain the Islamic Republic's impetuous impulses.

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Aim for a middle ground

LONDON - The US hard line with Tehran, built on the premise that diplomatic isolation coupled with economic and political sanctions backed up by the threat of military action will force Tehran's ruling clerics to back down from their quest for nuclear weapons, has so far produced exactly zero results.

Allowing Iran's clerics to possess nuclear weapons may also be unacceptable, especially when their front man, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calls for wiping Israel from the face of the earth while he sanctions the harboring of Al Qaeda. But Washington has no plan that addresses the wide middle ground in between these extremes.

Tehran's primary contention, on grounds of national sovereignty, has been that any enrichment activity must take place on its soil. But if Iran's theocrats are to be held to their word that their enrichment goals are civilian, one way to hold them accountable would be to bring an acceptable group of nations together to watch over and even conduct enrichment and nuclear fuel processing at Iran's nuclear plants.

For example, Britain, France, and Germany (the EU-3), together with China (supplier of current nuclear materials), India (an ally), and Pakistan (provider of much of Iran's older technology in use today), could form a consortium under the guidance of the IAEA to run Iran's nuclear power plants, as was recently suggested by John Thomson, former chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The consortium could legally enter into lease agreements, have responsibility over all aspects of Iran's enrichment facilities, and serve as watchdog for those concerned about the implications of Iranian enrichment.

Over time, such a framework could add as incentives the induction of modern technologies into Iran's civilian nuclear power industry, similar to those announced by President Bush in New Delhi last week, as well as requiring Tehran to agree to limits on the number of centrifuges it could have in any one facility.

The world does not need mad nuclear mullahs on the loose. But neither can it afford Washington's rigid thinking that leaves confrontation as the only visible solution.

Mansoor Ijaz is chief executive of Crescent Technology Ventures, a London company developing antiterrorist and national security technologies.

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