News / Middle East

Iran Remains Key Foreign Policy Issue for Obama

In this photo released by the International Iran Photo Agency, Iranian technicians work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, outside the southern city of Bushehr, 23 Aug 2010
In this photo released by the International Iran Photo Agency, Iranian technicians work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, outside the southern city of Bushehr, 23 Aug 2010

One of the central foreign policy questions facing the Obama administration is how to persuade Iran to end its uranium enrichment program.

The United States and the European Union have for years believed that Iran's uranium enrichment program is designed to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran has said its program is meant only for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity.

In an effort to persuade Iran to end its nuclear program, the United Nations Security Council has passed four sets of resolutions imposing sanctions on Tehran. In addition, several other nations, including the United States, have imposed their own measures.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni says sanctions can be a double-edged sword.  "We have to be sure that any sanction doesn't end up just hurting the people more than the regime," he said. "They are blunt instruments, in many cases, and you're trying to target the regime but it ends up falling down onto the people."

However former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger [1992, George H.W. Bush administration] says the international community must put more pressure on Iran.

"The international community can first of all do a great deal more than it is doing," he said. "And what that means more than anything else would be - and I emphasize this would be an international effort, not just our own - an international effort which would cut Iran off from both the materials necessary to build the weapons , but beyond that, in terms of making their economic life extremely difficult if they continued with this effort."

'Regional security structure'

For his part, General Zinni says a regional security structure must be established around Iran. "We have people in the region who are very concerned about Iran," he said. "I don't think we've worked to build the kind of security arrangement in that part of the world that shows that Iran would be clearly isolated."

"I think they provide veiled threats to their neighbors. Their neighbors are looking to us and others for some sort of cooperative defense system, maybe cooperative air and missile defense and other kinds of programs which would show them we're prepared to deal with any threat," he added.

'Military intervention'

While espousing diplomacy with Iran, the Obama administration has said all options are on the table - diplomatic parlance meaning military attacks have not been ruled out.

Lawrence Eagleburger favors military intervention but not only against Iran. "In the case of North Korea, if we had had to use force, I would have said we should have used it," he said. "I would say the same for Iran, if there is no other way to bring Iran to heel on the subject of the development of nuclear weapons."

"Now the problem with that, and I am the first to admit it, is that it will horrify world opinion. It would horrify most American opinion if we in fact took military action against Iran. But I would tell you that horror today would be small in comparison with the horror that will one day affect the whole world when in fact we find ourselves engaged in a nuclear war somewhere," he continued.

Consequences

General Zinni agrees that all options should remain on the table. But he also warns that military intervention against Iran could have dire consequences.

"If we end up with a conflict - there are strikes and counterstrikes in the region - it is going to affect the access to important energy resources; it will affect the economy of the world; it could stir up reaction in the Islamic world if it is perceived as being a pre-emptive attack, not being warranted - however that propaganda may play that," he said.

"The ability of the Iranians to fire missiles from mobile sites, put mines in the Strait of Hormuz, activate sleeper cells, terrorist cells - I mean this thing could escalate to the point where we have a major conflict and right at the heart of the energy resources that the world's economy depends on," he added.

Zinni and like-minded analysts say the international community must find a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions in order to avoid a potential military strike with dire consequences for everyone concerned.

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