The International Atomic Energy Agency's next progress report on Iran's disputed nuclear program could very well determine whether the U.N. Security Council imposes a third set of sanctions against Tehran. The IAEA report is expected in early September. But in Washington a debate is raging now over whether diplomacy has run its course and if bolder action is needed to block Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.
IAEA officials met in Tehran in an effort to resolve issues surrounding Iran's uranium enrichment program. Iran has ignored U.N. demands to stop the program, insisting it is geared only to produce electricity. The United States and other western countries strongly suspect Tehran wants to build nuclear weapons.
The IAEA's conclusions on whether Iran is being more transparent may determine support for U.S. efforts to impose additional sanctions on Iran.
John Calabrese is an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "If the IAEA report delivers a view or a set of findings that indicates that Iran has been uncooperative, then I think this builds a case for the United States politically to do, what at least some in the administration appear determined to do, which is to ratchet up the sanctions."
But some say even this will not be enough to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions -- and a debate is underway at various Washington think tanks over whether stronger action, including the use of force, is needed to deter Iran.
The hawks point out that despite U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's offer more than a year ago to talk to Iran, little progress has been made on the nuclear issue or in stopping Iran's Revolutionary Guards from supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents. The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, is among those advocating a much tougher stance.
Others, such as Patrick Clawson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, have a more nuanced approach. "If Iranian agents on the ground are killing Americans, darn straight the United States can use force against them. But the nuclear issue is an entirely different matter. On that, so long as the Iranian nuclear program is only proceeding slowly and so long as diplomacy is making some progress, then we should not rush into the use of military force."
For now, imposing tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran appears to be the Bush administration's priority. In March, the Security Council voted to freeze the overseas assets of certain individuals and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear program.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the administration continues to view such measures as a valuable tool. "They have the force of international law. And more and more, you have seen a cloud gathering over Iran and its dealings with the international financial community and the international business community."
But Iranian leaders may decide they have nothing to lose by waiting out the remaining 17 months of the Bush administration -- a move John Calabrese believes could be risky. "The administration's own time in office and its own difficulties politically may send a signal to the Iranians that they can stall, and they can buy time, and they can just wait us out. And the wild card here is the degree of patience or sense of urgency that the administration has, or doesn't have, and the point at which they may feel compelled to take more coercive steps."
And the Bush administration has made clear it will not "tolerate" a nuclear armed Iran.