The Bush administration deserves applause for working tenaciously to focus the international spotlight on the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons programs. The compromise reached late Tuesday on a resolution to be considered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) included language praising Iran’s belated cooperation with investigators while criticizing Tehran’s failure to resolve questions about its uranium enrichment programs. The question now is what steps the United States should take to reduce the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear breakout.
One person with some sound ideas for dealing with this danger is Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. Mr. Sokolski would begin by having the administration request that the IAEA’s safeguards division spell out how much time and effort would be required to certify that Iran is out of the bomb-making business. Second, in preparation for the IAEA’s next board meeting in June, as well as upcoming G-8 and NATO summits, Washington should lobby its European allies to adopt a host of country-neutral nonproliferation rules that would affect Iran and other aspiring nuclear powers. These rules, to put it mildly, could make life very uncomfortable for such regimes.
The allies should declare that nations cannot free themselves from their obligation to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by announcing their withdrawal unless the IAEA can clearly find them in full compliance and determines that they have dismantled all undeclared nuclear facilities. In addition, all countries should suspend nuclear cooperation with any nation that the IAEA cannot find to be in full compliance with its safeguards agreement until the agency can establish that that country is completely out of the weapons business. Civilian nuclear exports from NPT member nations that the IAEA can’t find in full compliance with the NPT should be considered illegitimate.
Mr. Sokolski would ratchet up the pressure on Iran in myriad other ways. For example, the secretary of state should call for help from France, the EU and Japan to declare that they will delay making investments in Iran’s oil industry “until and unless the IAEA finds Iran in full compliance or Iran has dismantled the nuclear facilities and materials it forgot to declare from the IAEA as required by its safeguards agreement with the agency.”
Washington should work with its allies to prepare against the contingency of Iran using its nuclear capabilities in the future, either to threaten the Straits of Hormuz (through conventional means, including mining) or to use nuclear mines directly.
As we noted yesterday, the United States does not have the luxury of waiting. Iran has become increasingly defiant in recent weeks, demanding that the IAEA end sanctions. Washington and its allies need to confront the danger before it is too late.