Iran nukes prompt concerns within Mideast
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations say they may arm if UN sanctions prove too weak.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasts that world powers are getting weak knees about stopping his country's nuclear program.Skip to next paragraph
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Is the fiery leader right?
The United Nations Security Council is considering a watered-down resolution of sanctions aimed at punishing Iran for pursuing its uranium- enrichment program – a process that could lead to development of a nuclear weapon. But with the United States seemingly occupied with Iraq, and with Russia and China still balking at any action that would suggest "humiliation" of a valued trade partner, doubts are rising over how much the Europe-sponsored resolution will be worth.
"Nothing has changed for the better with respect to this resolution and what it says about determination to stop a very dangerous scenario before it gets out of control," says Gal Luft, codirector of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington. "The Iranians are moving ahead. The world is acting in ways that reduce the chance of having a real impact on that – and countries in the region are taking note of both."
Indeed, as prospects wane for tough international action against Iran, some countries in the region are expressing alarm at the pace of Tehran's progress toward mastery of the nuclear cycle. And they seem to be saying, "If the international community is not going to do something about it, we will." Such an attitude is raising fears of a Middle East arms race.
Noting that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries announced over the weekend their interest in developing a cooperative nuclear-energy program, former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross said, "Who is that message for? Let me tell you, it's not for Iran. It was for us."
Ambassador Ross, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also said at an event Tuesday that the Saudis are telling the US, "Stop them – or that [nuclear power] is the way we go, too."
The regional warnings on Iran come amid reports that the Saudis have also warned the US that they might be compelled to enter on the side of the Sunnis in any Iraq that the US had abandoned to civil war.
The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council are Sunni powers expressing concerns over the rise of Shiite Iran, Mr. Luft says, which adds one more worrisome ripple to the signs of growing Sunni-Shiite tensions in Iraq and Lebanon. "They are saying that if there is to be a Shiite bomb, then they will need a Sunni bomb to counterbalance it," he says. "They don't want that, but if their neighbor Iran goes nuclear in this climate of deepening Shiite-Sunni divisions, they don't see how they could sit aside and not match it."
The Security Council draft resolution circulated this week by France, Britain, and Germany forgoes the proposed blanket sanctions against Iran that drew a Russian rebuff. Instead, it outlines sanctions focused on the country's uranium-enrichment process – targeting Iran's atomic-energy agency, facilities involved in the uranium-enrichment program, and individuals and companies associated with the program.
The resolution removes any reference to Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr, while focusing on a pilot enrichment facility at Natanz. That change satisfies one Russian demand, but Russian officials have held out for additional changes.
If the resolution is passed by the Security Council before the end of the year, as some diplomats expect, it would be nine months after the international community first demanded that Iran cease its uranium enrichment or face tough trade and financial sanctions. By early next year, it will have been two years since the Bush administration deferred to European diplomacy to try to halt a program that Mr. Ahmadinejad says is purely peaceful but that European officials have concluded is designed to deliver nuclear weapons.