On Sunday, an angry Iran refused to comply with a demand by the IAEA to cease work on its Qom nuclear fuel enrichment plant. The resolution, which President Ahmadinejad now calls, “illegal,” criticized Iran for defying its obligations under multiple UN Security Council requirements and rebuked the country for its secret uranium enrichment activities near the city of Qom. Iran further escalated the confrontation by declaring it would construct 10 more such plants.
This threat has created speculation in the blogosphere, but is it bluster or a realistic possibility?
Although the ability of Iran to deliver on all 10 sites seems questionable at best, Joshua Pollack at Arms Control Wonk speculates that secret plans to build new facilities may have been in place for some time, with construction already underway:
One way to see it, then, is that the Iranian side has seized the opportunity to get tough by coming clean, or to come clean by getting tough. In the two-level game of international diplomacy and Iranian domestic politics, this sort of Janus-faced response may be as close to a win-win outcome as ever happens.
Adding fuel to this fire, the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 “listed more than a dozen suspect locations” for nuclear weapons facilities in Iran.
While the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal ready themselves for military strikes, Max Bergmann at the Wonk Room notes that the Bush administration’s previous refusal to engage Iran prevented an international consensus from emerging.
The IAEA’s vote to censure Iran was not only “symbolic,” it represents a rare measure of unity within the group. Moscow and Beijing have not previously been on board with efforts to punish Iran for its nuclear defiance, either acting to prevent new Security Council measures or pushing for lighter sanctions. Bergmann notes that:
While Obama has been engaging Iran, he has also been working to significantly strengthen the international community’s stance on sanctions should the Iranians walk away. The US and Europe, which were frequently at odds during the Bush administration, are now largely in sync.
The resolution was endorsed by six world powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Only Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia voted against the document.
A vote on the resolution is expected to take place Friday. If the resolution is adopted, it will be transmitted to the Security Council for further action, a move that has not taken place since 2006. The IAEA’s 2006 censure of Iran increased initial public speculation as to the nature of the country’s nuclear program and prompted another four UN Security Council resolutions, three of them with sanctions. This second referral may likewise signal the beginning of more serious action toward Iran.