Security Council: pressure Iran

Now is not the time for the United States to shy away from U.N. debate.

Iran found itself under renewed pressure last week as the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution criticizing it for not fully cooperating with nuclear weapons inspectors. While the move is a welcome step toward containing the spread of nuclear weapons, much more than the IAEA is needed to thwart Iran’s atomic ambitions.

Iran has long defended its investment in uranium enrichment and centrifuge technology as part of a peaceful program to diversify its domestic energy sources beyond the vast oil reserves it currently enjoys. There is broad international consensus, however, that Iran’s real interest lies in developing nuclear weapons. Last fall, Iran pledged to cooperate with the IAEA, but it has since given vague and contradictory information to inspectors while hampering their work.

A nuclear-armed Iran is a disturbing scenario. The country has a long history of providing financial and military support for terrorist organizations. Its support for Hezbollah’s operations in southern Lebanon and Israel is well-known. The prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists is even more likely in a country that has not known domestic stability since the days of the Shah, more than 25 years ago.

The Bush administration has repeatedly asserted that military action in Iraq will deter other would-be nuclear powers. Far from intimidating the country’s clerics into compliance, however, the presence of 140,000 U.S. troops in neighboring Iraq has left the United States vulnerable to Iranian efforts aimed at sowing instability in the already volatile Shiite communities of Iraq.

U.S. officials are right to insist that curbing Iran’s nuclear program requires tough action from the U.N. Security Council, including possible economic sanctions. But they are wrong to let Russian and Chinese opposition stop them from pushing the issue onto the Security Council’s agenda. Iran is sensitive to further international isolation and the U.N., and more specifically the Security Council, has far more diplomatic clout than the IAEA. U.S. officials may be weary of conflict with allies, but now is not the time for the United States to shy away from another U.N. debate.