During the past few months, many nations have reached a consensus on the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to international security. A similar consensus eluded the same nations in the debate over invading Saddam Hussein’s Iraq three years ago. On March 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna referred Iran’s case to the Security Council. In public or private, but increasingly in public, senior officials from a wide range of countries—including the US, the EU states that vociferously opposed the invasion of Iraq, as well as India and Japan—speak of Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons with a conviction that suggests they regard it as an incontestable fact. Citing a series of deplorably anti-Israel statements by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, officials from some of the same countries express the fear that once Iran has the bombs it is assumed to be seeking, it will threaten Israel with a new and reckless vigor.
There is less agreement on the US contention that citizens of the Islamic Republic are captives of the country’s clerical elite, and that other countries should strengthen Iran’s pro-democracy organizations so that Iranians can enjoy, in George Bush’s words, the “right to choose [their] own future.” But this view may be spreading. In a recent speech, Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, declared his support for Iranians’ “aspirations for a freer and more democratic…future.”
As the Security Council debates what to do about Iran in closed sessions during the coming months, Iran’s relations with many countries will continue to worsen unless its leaders give in to international pressure and abandon their plans to become producers of nuclear fuel by enriching uranium, which they could use to make bombs. Between October 23, 2004, and January of this year, Iran had suspended work aimed at achieving a nuclear fuel cycle using enriched uranium. Then it started work on enrichment once again, and reacted to the IAEA’s strong condemnation of this move by telling the agency that it could no longer inspect sites other than those that Iran had declared to be nuclear sites. On March 29, the Security Council issued a statement repeating the recent demand of the IAEA that Iran again suspend its work on uranium enrichment and allow the IAEA to inspect installations where nuclear work is suspected of going on.
If Iran refuses to comply with such demands, as it has vowed to do, and continues the uranium enrichment program that it started in January, a senior British official expects it to have acquired “the technology to enable it to develop a nuclear weapon” by the end of this year. If the Iranians do not back down, the US, Britain, and France are expected to try to persuade the Russians and Chinese to support a subsequent resolution declaring Iran in violation of international law.
Having agreed that the Security Council discuss Iran’s behavior, Russia and China, however, have indicated …