Iran has announced that it has successfully enriched uranium at its facility in the central town of Natanz, a process that could either be used for civilian purposes or to build nuclear weapons. VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at what the international community can do to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions.
This is the latest development in an escalating confrontation between many Western nations and Iran over Tehran's nuclear weapons ambitions. The United States and Europe believe Tehran is seeking to develop a nuclear arsenal. But Iran's government says its program is only aimed at producing fuel for peaceful, civilian purposes. The announcement that Iran has successfully enriched uranium was made in Tehran by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called it a "historic moment."
Last month, the United Nations Security Council urged Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and asked Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to report back to the Council on April 28.
Experts say Iran's latest move may force the U.N. Security Council to discuss harsher measures against Tehran, such as sanctions. But they also point out that two Council members with veto power, China and Russia, have expressed their opposition to sanctions.
Charles Kupchan, former member of the U.S. National Security Council in the first Clinton administration, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, says the world body could first consider limited sanctions. "The talk thus far has been more about 'smart sanctions', sanctions that affect the leadership and not the broader Iranian population. It is the same sort of set of policy initiatives that has been talked about vis-à-vis Belarus, where a recent election was apparently stolen by [Alexander] Lukashenko, freezing the assets of leaders, not letting them travel by not giving them visas. These are the sorts of things that may, in the early stages, be implemented before attempting to garner support for a broader economic embargo of Iran," he said.
However, experts say that the only way sanctions would be effective is if there is strong support from the international community.
Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, a member of Britain's delegation to the United Nations Security Council (1998 - 2000) who worked on the issue of sanctions against Iraq, says a sanctions regime requires a long-term, patient and detailed effort to succeed.
"It is very difficult to control trade or indeed financial flows or the visits of senior government officials or flights.The world is a complex place and there are many flows going into and out of countries. And it is very, very difficult to monitor, police, and control those flows. And if you are going to try to, you are going to have to devote an enormous amount of effort to succeed. And that effort involves setting up monitoring bodies, appointing large numbers of officials to work on it, having monitoring on borders. But also a very painstaking and diligent effort to encourage the neighbors of the target state and other actors involved to observe the sanctions regime that you have imposed," he said.
In short, says Ross, it is a great deal of work and it is unclear whether the international community is ready for it.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, an independent research organization, says the United States, a strong advocate of sanctions, cannot push ahead with this approach any faster than the Security Council is willing to go. "The next step is not clear. 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 that the Security Council will be deadlocked. They will not be able to take any action. At the same time, that kind of scenario might lead some in the United States to argue that the Bush administration should take actions on its own. So we are moving in a very delicate phase here," he said.
Experts say the next step is for the Security Council to meet and decide what measures to undertake in order to force Iran to end its uranium enrichment program. But they say agreeing to those measures may be difficult.