US-Russia Article photo 1
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad poses with the Brazilian president and Turkish prime minister before signing a deal to ship some nuclear fuel to Turkey.

Editorial: Implementation Needed

The past week was a busy one for Iran diplomacy. But the world still awaits tough decisions and action from the U.N. Security Council and European nations to persuade Iran to give up its quest for a nuclear weapons capability.

On Monday, May 17, Iran announced that it had accepted a Turkish-Brazilian proposal to ship some of its nuclear fuel out of the country. Under the terms of the deal, Iran would transfer about 2,640 pounds of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey within one month and receive—within one year—fuel rods for use in a medical research reactor.

To the untrained ear, the deal sounded like a good thing. Iran would give away some of its LEU, delaying its drive for a nuclear weapons capability as the United States and its allies bought time for more serious negotiations. While not a solution, it could at least defuse some tension.

That might have been the case had Iran agreed to a similar U.S.-backed deal in October. Back then, 2,640 pounds was nearly 80 percent of Iran’s stock of LEU. Now, that same amount is only half of Iran’s current supply; the remaining half is enough for the construction of one nuclear bomb if further enriched. Since rejecting the U.S.-backed deal, moreover, Iran has been enriching uranium to the 20 percent level—and bragging about it.

The problem with the Turkish-Brazilian deal is that if implemented, it would do little to reassure an honest observer about Iran’s nuclear intentions. The deal does not require Iran to suspend its enrichment program as the Security Council has demanded. Iran would continue to enrich uranium to the 20 percent level. (LEU is enriched to only 4 percent.)

While that level of enrichment is required for medical use of uranium, it is also 80 percent of the work needed to produce weapons-grade material. There is no reason for Iran to keep enriching to this higher level if it is going to receive fuel rods from another country under the proposed deal.

Iran’s goal in accepting the Turkish-Brazilian proposal, it seems, was to postpone Security Council action and divide the permanent members. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated, the deal was “a transparent ploy to avoid Security Council action.”

Iran failed at that. The day after the photo-op in Tehran among the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Brazil, Secretary Clinton announced that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany (P5+1), had agreed to a draft sanctions resolution.

The P5+1 obviously felt undermined by Turkey and Brazil and decided that they needed to publicize the draft resolution. At the same time, imminent congressional sanctions against Iran helped the Obama administration persuade the rest of the P5+1 to act quickly—before Congress passed its much more stringent legislation. BACK TO TOP

The P5+1 Are United

The draft resolution marks the sixth time in four years that the Security Council has declared Iran a threat to international peace and security, affirmed that Iran has failed to comply with previous resolutions and demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and related activity.

There are many positive elements to the new draft resolution, even though it is not as strong as the United States would have liked it to be.

It prohibits Iran from doing nuclear work outside its borders, such as mining for uranium. It authorizes nations to inspect suspicious Iranian air and sea cargo for illicit items. It strengthens an arms embargo, prohibiting countries from exporting to Iran tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and more.

And it calls on nations to use extra vigilance when conducting transactions with Iranian financial institutions, especially the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which helps finance Iran’s nuclear program and terrorist groups such as Hizballah and Hamas. The CBI also acts as a front for Iranian banks that the UNSC has already sanctioned.

So now that the draft has been made public, will it do any good? After all, Iran has repeatedly rebuffed the Security Council's demand to stop enriching uranium. This reality makes it easy to dismiss U.N. sanctions as toothless and ineffective, but such a characterization would be a mistake in this case. While U.N. sanctions are inefficient by themselves, they are a necessary step toward ending Iran’s illicit atomic work.

The issue is what individual countries are prepared to do. Once the Security Council approves the draft resolution and it becomes binding international law, countries will not be able to say—at least not with a straight face—that they will wait for the Council to act before taking any steps of their own to pressure Iran. If the United States and other like-minded countries do not enact and enforce domestic and multilateral sanctions, Iran will not feel much pressure.

So let’s start with the United States. In order to heed the draft resolution’s call for increased vigilance against the CBI, the Obama administration must designate it as a supporter of terrorism and weapons proliferation. The administration should also prohibit a bank from conducting any transactions in the United States if that bank also does business with the CBI.

In addition, the United States must clamp down on countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and China, that are violating existing U.N. sanctions laws by exporting sensitive U.S. technology to Iran. And finally, the U.S. Navy should interdict ships traveling to and from Iran that are reasonably suspected of carrying prohibited cargo.

As for the European Union, it needs to do a lot more if it is serious about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The E.U. can start by building on the Security Council’s call for vigilance on transactions with Iranian banks by banning all transactions with Iran’s Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, closing all branches of Iranian banks operating in Europe and banning Iranian transactions in Euros.

The E.U. should also sanction Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as its subsidiaries and front companies, for their involvement in Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile development. BACK TO TOP

Obama Administration Wants U.N. Sanctions by Summer

In order for the draft resolution to become binding international law, the Security Council needs to vote on it. The Obama administration has said that its goal is for the Council to pass the resolution this spring. The summer solstice is less than one month away.

Will the Security Council act quickly? Will the E.U. enact tougher measures? Congress will be watching the international diplomacy play out over the next month before finalizing its Iran sanctions bill.

Many senators and House members are unlikely to accept further delays beyond the July 4 recess—and with good reason. While the diplomats negotiate among themselves, the centrifuges continue to spin in Iran. BACK TO TOP