The international community may have to consider what measures to take against Iran that might curtail its nuclear weapons program.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to receive a report Friday from Mohammed El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). El-Baradei is expected to inform the U.N. body whether Iran has complied with the Council's demands to stop its uranium enrichment program,a process that could be used either for civilian or military purposes.
Iran says its nuclear program is meant solely for peaceful goals. But the United States and Europe believe Tehran plans to build a nuclear arsenal.
Experts say since Iran has announced earlier this month that it has successfully enriched uranium at its facility in Natanz, El-Baradei's report is expected to be negative, saying that Tehran is in violation of U.N. demands. And analysts say that brings up the question what will the international community do to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions.
Many experts believe the U.N. Security Council will have to discuss possible sanctions against Iran - an option Washington favors.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns just returned from a meeting in Moscow of senior diplomats from the five permanent members of the Security Council. He recently told a State Department briefing (4/21/06) several options are being discussed.
"Among the efforts being talked about internationally, behind closed doors and also publicly, are targeted sanctions against the Iranian leadership to make it impossible for them to travel [with] visa sanctions," he said. "A prohibition on export of dual-use technologies that could serve their nuclear industry, and other measures like that."
At the same time Burns admitted there was no agreement at the meeting in Moscow on how to proceed on possible punitive measures. Two of the five permanent members, Russia and China, have already expressed their opposition to sanctions on Iran.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, an independent research organization, says the world community must show a united front.
"The problem for the United States is that the only way that these sanctions are going to work is if there is strong support from the international community," he said. "And the United States cannot push ahead with this approach any faster than the international community, the Security Council in particular, is willing to go. So the next step is unclear. If the United States pushes for stronger actions against Iran, these targeted political and economic sanctions, and the Russians and the Chinese resist, then it is quite possible the Security Council will be deadlocked, they will not be able to take any action."
Many analysts say sanctions may not necessarily achieve the desired effect.
One of those is Carne Ross, former British diplomat and a member of Britain's delegation to the United Nations Security Council (1998 - 2000). He worked on the issue of sanctions against Iraq.
"In Iraq, we had an extremely tough sanctions regime which, at its outset, forbade all imports and exports with Iraq, which is an extremely tight constraint on any country," he explained. "And yet it didn't force Iraq to comply with the weapons inspectors fully. They allowed the inspectors in, but as history has recorded, they didn't allow them full access to sites and cooperate with them in the way that they should. And that cooperation was not, in fact, forthcoming until there were several U.S. army divisions sitting on their borders, which suggests that even a very aggressive sanctions regime doesn't necessarily force the compliance you seek."
Ross says sanctions can also backfire.
"I feel very strongly that the biggest lesson from sanctions on Iraq is that they harmed the wrong people," he added. "The regime was more or less unaffected by sanctions in any serious way, but considerable humanitarian suffering took place in the civilian population. We were aware of these effects. We did very little to alter the design of sanctions to minimize those effects. That must never be repeated, not only because it is unfair in itself on the civilians affected, but also because you need to be putting pressure on the people in government. They are the people making the decisions to build weapons of mass destruction or develop nuclear bombs. Those are the people you need to be making uncomfortable if they are to comply with your demands."
Analysts do not expect the U.N. Security Council to agree on sanctions against Iran in the near future. But they do expect diplomatic pressure to increase on Iran in the months ahead, pressure that could lead to more punitive measures if Iran continues to defy the Security Council and enrich uranium.