Tuesday, January 31, 2006

IAEA to "Report" Iran to Security Council

A hollow victory was achieved overnight with all five permanent members of the UN Security Council agreeing that the IAEA should "report" Iran to that body. Unfortunately, there is no agreement that Iran should be "referred" to the Security Council. While subtle, there are differences between the two, and this latest move does not yet give the Security Council sufficient authority to chastise Iran. (Washington Post: Iran to Be Reported To Security Council).

Also under the agreement reached with China and Russia, Iran still has 60 days to comply with the IAEA requirements including the termination of their enrichment program before the matter is reported to the council. Russia has pledged to spend that time attempting to negotiate a deal in which they would enrich uranium for Iran, thus guaranteeing (according to them) that weapons grade enrichment would not be possible. Forgive me if I don't quite trust any such deal with Russia.

On the home front, 70% of Americans support economic sanctions against Iran, a step that will most certainly be taken before any military response is considered. Obtaining the backing of Russia and China for economic sanctions, especially an oil embargo, is highly unlikely. China has a minority interest in Iran's oil fields and they obtain a significant amount of their growing oil needs from Iran. At least one veto on the security council is all but assured.

Americans are sending mixed signals on support for military strikes, however. The latest poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC news show support for military strikes only at 42%. Last week an LA Times and Bloomberg poll showed support for military strikes at 57%. The discrepancy may well be due to the wording of the question, however, since the Bloomberg poll included the phrase "if Iran continues to produce material that can be used to develop nuclear weapons." (Washington Post: Most Americans Back Sanctions on Iran).

Before Iran begins to take the issue seriously, those poll numbers will need to increase significantly. While actual military action will not be determined by the polls, the need for action in the first place might be. Only if Iran is faced with imminent military strikes is there any chance Russia and China will agree to at least abstain on sanctions. Only if they are convinced that strikes are imminent will Iran seriously consider negotiating in good faith. The current polls do not send that message, and that is bad news for any chance of a diplomatic solution.

In the meantime, every day that passes brings Iran one day closer to obtaining nuclear weapons technology. While the world dithers, Iran develops. Let's hope we don't leave this in the hands of the diplomats until it's too late.


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