Monday, January 16, 2006

ElBaradei Sets March 6th Deadline for Iran

In an uncharacteristic show of strength, IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei has issued an ultimatum to Iran, giving them 7 weeks to respond to all outstanding questions or face sanctions and possible military action. (Telegraph: Nuclear chief gives Iran a deadline).

In a Newsweek interview, ElBaradei used the sharpest tone he has to date, saying, "We are coming to the litmus test in the next few weeks. Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them. Of course, this has to be the last resort, but sometimes you have to do it."

The deadline set for Iran is March 6th, after which ElBaradei will declare his investigation closed and recommend that Iran be referred to the UN Security Council for sanctions and possible military action. The IAEA alone does not have the authority to order either, however their support will make it more difficult for Russia and China to block the actions.

Both of those nations are the keys since they hold veto authority in the Security Council, and both have a lot to lose if Iran is hit with either sanctions or is the target of military action. Russia is a major supplier of military equipment to Iran and would not want to jeopardize that relationship by supporting sanctions. They are also the primary supplier for Iran's nuclear research facilities. They have a lot to gain economically if Iran is allowed to enrich uranium on Russian soil and have no desire to see Iran's research curtailed.

China is heavily dependent on Iranian oil and they have a non-controlling interest in many of Iran's oil fields. Sanctions against Iran would be tantamount to sanctions against China and would have a financial impact on China's 9.8% economic growth rate. There's little chance of China voting to approve sanctions against Iran. Just getting them to abstain is highly improbable.

Still, the comments from ElBaradei are the most useful statements to come out of the IAEA in over a decade. In this case, he's absolutely correct. Diplomacy must be backed by strength, both economically and militarily. Without a legitimate threat of force, no diplomacy will ever bring Iran to heel. The challenge now is to convince Russia and China. As long as Tehran continues to receive private assurances that nothing will get through the Security Council Iran will continue to act with impunity.


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