Friday, November 9, 2007

Iranian Nuke Program Further Developed, New Approach Necessary

The war of words between President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinejad continues to intensify. As Bush reaffirmed his warning on Wednesday that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to WWIII, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran reached its target of 3,000 fully-functioning centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility. Although no independent authority has verified these claims, Ahmadinejad’s announcement goes beyond previous statements by indicating that the centrifuges are now up and running.

Centrifuges produce uranium gas, which can either be developed into fuel for a nuclear reactor or – at higher levels of enrichment – fuel for a nuclear bomb. AP notes that "the number 3,000 is the commonly accepted figure for a nuclear enrichment program that is past the experimental stage and can be used as a platform for a full industrial-scale program that could churn out enough enriched material for dozens of nuclear weapons, should Iran chose to go the route." According to AFP, "this number is a key milestone because scientists say that in ideal conditions it is sufficient to produce enough enriched uranium in one year to make a single nuclear bomb."

Iran's continued development of its uranium enrichment program is in clear defiance of unilateral and multilateral efforts by the U.S. and the international community to curb the development of its nuclear program. Even assuming the truthfulness of Ahmadinejad's claims, his public statements about his country’s nuclear program are aggressive at a minimum.

But examining this issue from beyond the somewhat limited perspective we are offered by the Bush administration or the mainstream media, it is not far-fetched to argue that Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and actions may be as much of a response as they are a catalyst in the international controversy regarding the country’s nuclear program.

Statements that Iran "could not care less" about UN Security Council resolutions because they are based on a "wrong report" seem on provocative-par with Bush's recent discussions of "WWIII," a "nuclear holocaust," and threats of military action against the Islamic state. The battle of words has certainly intensified in opposition to the goal of trying to prevent a battle of nuclear weapons.

In addition to a war of words, other recent activity from Washington has done little to create an environment conducive to constructive dialogue. These activities include the blacklisting of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, as well as unilateral sanctions initiated by the U.S. and encouraged for European nations. The UN Security Council has already instituted two sets of sanctions, with some countries pushing for a third.

It seems that it might be a valuable lesson for the Bush administration to learn that any action short of military engagement does not automatically constitute "diplomacy." The recent debate in the U.S. regarding Iran's nuclear program seems to have devolved into a false dichotomy. One side advocates a hawkish stance in which military action against the country is seen as necessary, while the other advocates "everything else," a position which is now dominated by punitive measures.

A word of advice to the Bush administration: rather than just using sticks and bigger sticks in our effort to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, a few carrots might come in handy.

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