Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions: four approaches

March 13, 2006

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.

Skip to next paragraph

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.

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.