On a visit to Prague in April, President Obama stated that nuclear non-proliferation would be a flagship policy of his Administration, with the long-term goal of total nuclear disarmament. If he is serious, then stopping Iran’s relentless ambition to join the club of nuclear weapons states must be a top priority. A nuclear-armed Iran would be not only an existential threat to Israel, but a potential nuclear proliferator throughout the Middle East. Combined with its closeness to Hezbollah (Iran is already the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism), the ramifications are unfathomably chilling.
Reports on Iran’s latest gambit, demonstrate that the brutal regime in Tehran remains perfectly happy to engage in the same tried-and-failed negotiations that have been tested to destruction and allowed Tehran precious time to advance its nuclear weapons program. Since the constitution of the EU3 in 2003 – with its policy of unfettered diplomatic engagement – the international community has failed to leverage repeated offers of generous incentive packages in exchange for greater cooperation from Tehran. The Iranian presidential elections conducted in June 2009 witnessed the vicious suppression of Iran’s people including mass arrests, politically-motivated beatings and murders, and systematic human rights abuses. These are not the actions of a nation who wants to play by the rules.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated that Tehran has already amassed sufficient enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb if Iran further enriches it to bomb-grade level. The time for light-touch sanctions have clearly passed; the U.S. must now work with the Europeans, Japan and other concerned countries – outside of the UN if necessary – to impose targeted and heavy sanctions immediately. As the largest trading partner with Iran in the EU, Germany would set a powerful example to the rest of Europe by imposing such sanctions in conjunction with the U.S., especially to Italy and France who also have significant economic ties to Tehran. It is time for Germany and Europe to put long-term global stability and security before short-term economic interests.
Ultimately, sanctions may not be enough to deter Iran from seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, in which case President Obama will be forced to accept either a nuclear-armed Iran or the use of force to disarm Tehran. For the West, the first scenario should be unacceptable; and even if the second is risky, it can not be ruled out.