America’s “Tough” Option
After months of debate and delay, on Dec. 23, 2006, the United Nations Security Council finally passed UN Security Council Resolution 1737, designed to punish Iran with sanctions for refusing to cease uranium enrichment. The Iranian defense minister immediately dismissed the sanctions as being worthless, saying they would have no impact. The Iranian president referred to the resolution as a “scrap of paper.” Is this talk by Iranian officials just bravado?
The resolution demands Tehran “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, and work on all heavy water-related projects.” To give weight to the demand, the resolution calls on the international community to cease supplying Iran with material and technology related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. If Iran still doesn’t cease uranium enrichment, the penalty (in theory) would be further sanctions.
“This resolution is a strong signal to the government of Iran that it should accept its international obligations, suspend its sensitive nuclear activities and accept the negotiations path,” stated U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Apparently, Tehran didn’t pick up the signal. It immediately rejected the resolution, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declaring that the world would just have to accept Iran as a nuclear state. Far from appearing to have any punitive effect, the resolution prompted Iran to vow to drastically speed up its nuclear program. The day after the resolution was passed, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said work would commence immediately to install a further 3,000 uranium enriching centrifuges. Judging by Iran’s track record, it is not unreasonable to assume that Tehran will follow through.
Aside from the issue of how and whether the resolution will be implemented by various countries, Iranian allies Russia and China ensured the resolution was so watered down that it wouldn’t hurt their interests—nor, to any great extent, Iran’s. “The resolution fully reflects economic interests of Russia and other partners of Iran,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, hailing it as a reasonable compromise. Russia gained exemption for any sanctions relating to the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which it is building for Iran. A ban on international travel for Iranian officials involved with nuclear and missile development was also dropped in order to get China and Russia on board.
Far from demonstrating a united international community determined to punish Iran and prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, the agreement on UN sanctions is a “demonstration of Western weakness,” according to the Washington Post (Dec. 23, 2006). “The message to Tehran is not that it faces isolation or economic ruin if it fails to respect the Security Council’s order; it is that it need not fear sanctions.”
While the sanctions may cause Iran some little hindrance, they clearly will not deter it from pursuing its goals. In reality, the main purpose the sanctions serve is to provide the U.S. with an alternative to any real meaningful action. The fact that America is covertly working with Iran to alleviate problems in Iraq denies the U.S. other, more robust, options. And Iran knows it. As Ahmadinejad taunted, “Give up this Muppet show. You cannot send secret friendly messages to us and at the same time show your teeth and claws.”
With UN sanctions being the toughest option the U.S. seems willing to contemplate toward Iran, perhaps the bravado is more on the side of America than Iran.