Natanz Nuclear Facility in Iran

It has taken over a year for the Obama Administration to understand what seemed clear when the President extended his hand to Iran: engagement will not work. How Washington responds to this reality as it presses for new sanctions will have a huge impact on the future of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips makes the case for the “strongest possible sanctions” to deter Iran from continuing its nuclear weapons program.

The alternative could be a nuclear Iran that will threaten American interests and spark a potential arms race across the volatile Middle East. However the administration has opposed congressional legislation, passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, to impose sanctions on foreign companies that export gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran.

Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brushed off the threat of new sanctions. If President Obama fails to ratchet up pressure on Tehran, Ahmadinejad rightly has little to worry about. Five United Nations Security Council resolutions and three rounds of sanctions have not stopped Iran’s defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community.

Iran’s determined push for a nuclear weapon can not be blocked without extremely strong international sanctions that would impose excruciating economic pain and threaten the regime’s continued hold on power. Yet the administration reportedly is weakening its proposed sanctions at the UN to win Russia and China’s vote. Instead, “Washington should push for the strongest possible sanctions that it can squeeze out of the Security Council, but press its allies and other countries to impose even stronger sanctions outside the U.N. framework, such as freezing foreign investment in Iran, banning gasoline exports to Iran, banning the travel by Iranian officials abroad, and generally raising the price that the regime must pay to continue its nuclear program.”

The “knowns” and “unknowns” surrounding the Iranian nuclear program all point to strong sanctions as the solution. Iran runs a nuclear program larger than necessary for a civilian program, sought nuclear weapons material from the infamous A.Q. Khan, and continues to conceal its program. Furthermore, Iran contradicted its peaceful claims buy rejecting nuclear deal that would have improved its civilian program.
Also, we don’t know how close Iran is to gaining a nuclear weapon, how closely Iran is cooperating with North Korea, or how much foreign assistance their nuclear program has received.

Phillips writes, “Iran’s strategy remains clear: to hide and lie about its nuclear program, feign cooperation with the IAEA to delay any sanctions, depend on its Russian and Chinese friends to block any effective sanctions in the Security Council, and eventually present the world with a nuclear fait accompli.”

Reza Khalili, author of “A Time to Betray” adds: “We can either rise up to our principles and defend the aspirations of the Iranian people for a free and democratic government, or we can continue with our vacillation and indecision, allowing Iran to become a nuclear-armed state.”

We may not know when Iran will get the bomb, but we will find out unless Washington changes its current strategy and imposes the necessary sanctions that this crisis calls for.

Jeffrey Chatterton currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: